When President Hugo Chávez returns to Venezuela this week after an operation in Cuba to remove a cancerous lesion, he will find a country swirling with rumours.
With less than seven months to go before presidential elections, few know the true state of the socialist leader’s health. It is unclear whether he will even be able to stand, let alone campaign effectively, as he faces several weeks of radiotherapy and perhaps other treatment following his return from Havana.
“We’re all praying for a speedy recovery for our Comandante,” self-confessed diehard chavista Glenda Colmenares said outside a church in central Caracas. “This is a difficult time for us but we have to have faith that Chávez will be OK. Without him there is no revolution.”
There has been a palpable mood change in Venezuela since the start of the year, when the president appeared to have returned to larger-than-life form after his illness. Perhaps to prove the point, in January he gave what may have been the longest ever presidential speech, talking for almost 10 hours nonstop, assuring Venezuelans that he was “completely cured” from the cancer he was diagnosed with last June.
“The resurgence of Chávez’s illness has generated a climate of uncertainty,” said Maryclen Stelling, a Caracas-based sociologist who suspects that political tensions will heighten.