In the cover of darkness, with no public notice or cameras allowed, the cancer-stricken president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, returned to his home country last week. After spending a reclusive two months in a Cuban hospital, missing his own inauguration, and calling into question the legitimacy of his government, Chavez arrived last week a military hospital in Caracas. His supporters have taken to the streets to cheer the return of their leader, while the opposition continues to demand more information on the former tank commander's health.
It is important to note that the government says that Chavez has returned home to continue his cancer treatment — he has not yet defeated the disease. Observant doctors such as Dr. Carlos Castro of the Colombian League Against Cancer seem to believe that Chavez has returned home to die. "I think he’s conscious that he isn’t going to win his fight against cancer, as much as he’d like to win it," Castro told the Associated Press in an interview.
As Chavez lingers closer towards death, the future of his socialist movement is being called into question. His hand-picked successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, lacks the charismatic stamina that Chavez used to come to power. The opposition, led by the young and charismatic Henrique Capriles, is the strongest and most organized it has ever been. While a Chavez-aligned pollster has said that Maduro would win an election against Capriles, there is still a chance that the Capriles-led opposition could successfully topple Chavez's government.
The government has brought Chavez back in order to help solidify his support base behind Maduro and buy more time to figure out the best way to defeat the opposition. Once the president dies or is declared incapacitated, new elections must be held within 30 days. Maduro and the rest of Chavez's ministers will make a show of running the government from the military hospital where the president now rests, trying to allow his administration to remain in power for as long as possible.
Capriles and the opposition, meanwhile, will continue to demand more information on the president's condition. They seem confident that if Chavez's condition was made public, the supreme court would have no choice but to declare him unable to fulfill the duties of his office. They understand, just like Maduro, that time is of the essence now.
Hugo Chavez's return to Venezuela is nothing but more smoke and mirrors from one of the most corrupt and opaque democratic governments in the world. It will do nothing to calm the uncertainty in the OPEC nation as the opposition and a growing number of other interest groups continue to call to question both the legitimacy of Chavez's socialist government and its recent actions.