Ailing Chavez tries for one more term
By Dale McFeatters
It is only stating the obvious that Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez' days are numbered.
In the unlikely but not impossible event that his 39-year-old challenger, Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles, doesn't get him in the Oct. 7 election, his bout with cancer that he is visibly losing will.
It is a crime in Venezuela to speculate about Chavez' health but he has admitted to three surgeries and chemo and radiation therapy.
Once almost constantly on television, he now rarely appears and then only in carefully scripted and staged events. His weekly TV program, "Hello, Mr. President," has been suspended and the orator who could rant for hours now communicates through 140-character tweets from his Twitter account.
Chavez is rabidly anti-American and when he runs into political problems at homes ― food shortages, crime, corruption ― he drums up the specter of an imminent U.S. invasion. One sometimes senses he is almost begging Washington for a threatening gesture. Wisely, Washington has refused to oblige.
But, just in case, he has bought Russian fighter jets and attack helicopters and is building a factory to produce Kalashnikov rifles with money that could be better spent on the country's crumbling infrastructure and overwhelmed education system.
He has built close ties with Cuba, which he supplies with heavily subsidized oil; and Iran, with whom he has little in common except that both nations are on the outs with the U.S.; and, in violation of international sanctions, he supplies Syria with diesel fuel.
To thwart U.S. influence in Latin America and the success of its free trade agreements, Chavez has formed the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, whose principal members are the leftist nations of Bolivia. Cuba and Ecuador. Periodically, the alliance announces that it will issue its own currency to replace the dollar.
Chavez has ruled Venezuela for 13 years, steadily tightening his grip on the legislature, the courts, the security services and the media in pursuit of what he calls Bolivarian socialism.
On paper it resembles Cuba in socialism and, in those areas of the Venezuelan economy where it has been put into practice, appears about as successful.
Although Chavez has a tight inner circle of loyalists, unlike Fidel Castro, he has no designated or even obvious successor. Should he die in the first four years of his six-year term, the constitution calls for new elections.
But it would be best for Venezuela if he loses this one, leaving him free to devote full time to battling his illness and his people free to devote their time to getting their country back.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer for Scripps Howard News Service (www.scrippsnews.com).