Foreign Policy Blogs

Death Defying Chavez

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At a high-level executive meeting in Mexico City on Feb. 13, the conversation turned, as it often does in Latin American circles, into a guessing game on Chavez´ health. Several participants insisted ¨Chavez is dead, we haven´t heard from him or seen him in weeks.¨ My response? The man is too ornery to pass away quietly. When Chavez goes, the world will know.

I may have to eat my hat.

Less than a week later, early Feb. 18, I got a text message from a close friend in Caracas telling me el Comandante had landed at approximately 5 am, transferred immediately to Hospital Militar. He arrived in the cloak of night, no cameras.

One has to wonder why an international audience is so captivated with morbid fascination. I must admit to tweeting (please note the positive connotation of the word “tweet”) almost every time a contact in Venezuela has sent me death rumors, notes or anecdotal evidence pointing toward death. Why?

Why are we watching the man’s health like an afternoon telenovela? Perhaps the answer isn’t that the general public is on deathwatch, rather that the lack of transparency by Chavez handlers has generated some really fantastic suppositions. If any of them are even remotely true, then Chavez’ 14-year tenure will get the closure it deserves.

The most startling of scenarios is one being promoted by Panama’s former ambassador to the OAS, Guillermo Cochez. In a rather contentious interview with CNN Chile he asserts bluntly that not only is Chavez dead, he has been since Dec. 30, 2012.

Even more bizarre are the assertions that despite being brain dead since Dec. 30, he was flown to Caracas to be kept alive by machines that were unplugged on or around Feb. 24. Obviously this last bit has too many gaps to be plausible, yet other questions remain.

Why are Chavez’ daughters dressed medio-luto (Venezuelan tradition of wearing half black half white)? Why has the Cuban Embassy in Caracas suddenly beefed up security (as of 13:30 Feb. 27)?

The facts are not good. Chavez has not been seen since Dec. 10 when he flew to Cuba for a fourth round of surgery. He was unable to return to the country for his scheduled swearing-in as president on January 10, due to on-going medical treatment in Havana. Some pictures surfaced mid-February of him with his daughters reading a newspaper, but their authenticity has come under question.

One does not need to be a conspiracy theorist to sense that new elections (required by the Venezuelan constitution in the event of death of the president) are possible in the spring of 2013. It will be interesting to see what the Henrique Capriles campaign does differently this time around now that the (likely) foe will be current vice president Nicolas Maduro. Does the Hay un Camino campaign still have momentum or will they start afresh? Has the (supposed) postponement of Chavez’s death been in an effort to bolster Maduro’s popularity ratings before a new election is announced?

News out of Venezuela will certainly accelerate over the next few weeks and people will wait with baited breath to see what twists and turns come up next.



Marie Metz

Marie Metz is a Latin America Security Analyst based in Mexico City, Mexico with frequent travel throughout Latin America. She covered the 2012 and 2013 Venezuelan presidential elections from Caracas, and has lived in Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She holds an M.A. in International Security from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Miami.

You can follow her on Twitter: @gueritametz or read her individual blog: