On June 30, 2011, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez confirmed from Havana, Cuba that he had an operation 20 days before to remove a cancerous tumor.
Although hospitalized in Cuba and suffering the incapacitation that came with the procedure, Chávez did not transfer power to the vice president.
In February of this year, it was announced that his cancer had returned and that he was heading for Cuba again for another operation. This comes at a delicate time because Chávez is preparing to run for a fourth term and polls show that the opposition candidate has gained enough support to make the election a dead heat.
This is one of many obstacles to his dream of creating a socialist nation run by poor and marginalized people like he used to be. Yet cancer is an obstacle that represents limits and finality to the best plans and ambitions.
Like many of Venezuela’s disenfranchised, Chávez was born to rural poverty and an unstable political world dominated by elitism and corruption at the top. His family had to find a way of getting him to the city of Barinas to obtain a high school education and Caracas for a military education and graduation as an army officer.
During his military career Chávez conspired to create a series of secret organizations to promote the notion of a leftist state largely run by the will of the lower economic and social classes that are the majority in his country. He was a leader of an unsuccessful coup d’état, was jailed for two years and set free before organizing a national movement that led to his election as president in 1998.
In the dozen years as president, Chávez has faced an almost successful coup d’état and an unsuccessful referendum seeking to remove him from office. Throughout all of these events, he has steadily moved the country toward socialism by breaking up, nationalizing and expropriating important private sector institutions.
He is now running for president again because he, evidently, feels that he is the sole guarantor of his dreams. The problem with his plans to create a socialist state is that he is convinced that he is following the Cuban model and that he will live the time necessary to realize his plans.
Copying Cuba is almost impossible because Fidel Castro had to get rid of the middle class, which traditionally has been the bulwark of a free society. Judging by the strength of his political opposition in this election year, his effort to bring that group into his movement appears to be a failure that threatens his stay in power.
At the same time, political obstacles are one thing and cancer is another. Chávez has so far avoided telling the world the exact nature of his medical condition no doubt to keep his enemies guessing.
Cancer is a serious illness and should be respected and faced with a focused courage that can bring healing or at least minimize its effects on the human condition. To use it as a political football or as an element of no consequence, is dangerous and ignores its challenge to the routine of a normal life.
Chávez has reduced the importance of the cancer challenge to his political plans for the future of Venezuela. The tragedy is that in ignoring the effects of his medical condition he risks leaving behind a country in turmoil and less free.