Chavez illness fuels speculation and rumors
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
January 4th, 2013
06:08 PM ET

Chavez illness fuels speculation and rumors

By Jill Dougherty and Jamie Crawford

Speculation is swirling that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is sicker than the government is letting on and there is some thought the United States may be trying to influence the socialist leader’s transition from power.

Chavez, 58, has not been seen in public since arriving in Cuba for his fourth cancer operation more than three weeks ago.

A top Venezuelan official said on Thursday that Chavez was suffering from a severe lung infection that has caused respiratory failure. The type of cancer he is fighting has not been disclosed and there was no word on his prognosis.

The National Institutes of Health says the outlook for respiratory failure “depends on the severity of its underlying cause, how quickly treatment begins” and overall health of the patient.

But Chavez’s illness has cast doubt on whether he will be able to be inaugurated next week for his fourth term.

For the United States, Chavez has been a diplomatic trouble-maker since he took office in 1999. He famously called President George W. Bush “the devil” at the U.N. General Assembly six years ago.

Relations with the leader of the oil-rich nation have improved during the Obama administration.

The State Department confirms it has been talking with Venezuelan government officials and with the opposition but described it as routine diplomatic activity.

"Obviously, we talk to Venezuelans from across the political spectrum, as we do with countries around the world,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Thursday.

“But any political transition that takes place in Venezuela has to be the product of decisions that are made by Venezuelans. There's no made-in-America solution here,” she said.

In 2002, the United States had close ties to the opposition and those involved with a coup that briefly removed Chavez from power. Although Washington denied being involved, many Venezuelans believe the United States was intent on overthrowing Chavez.

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue and Adjunct Professor of Latin American Studies at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, said Venezuela has played a key role in regional affairs over the past 14 years.

“Hugo Chavez has been at the center of that. It’s a very polarized situation and so it has enormous consequences for all of Latin America and the Caribbean. The United States cannot afford to ignore Venezuela, it needs to pay close attention and to try and play a constructive role,” Shifter said.

Venezuela sits atop of the largest oil reserves in the world. According to the State Department nearly 10% of U.S. oil imports come from Venezuela.

Chavez’s illness has ignited debate within Venezuela over what the Constitution requires for a president to take the oath of office. Shifter told CNN that elections are supposed to take place within 30 days if Chavez cannot resume his duties.

Chavez, he said, remains popular among many Venezuelans and is the “legitimate president” of Venezuela.

“There is a sense that he cares about Venezuelans. Some of the previous presidents did not care very much about the poor and Chavez has connected with the poor. So there is enormous loyalty and attachment that many Venezuelans feel towards Chavez and that counts a lot in politics,” Shifter said.

Venezuelan Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said on Thursday there was "iron unity" among the Venezuelan government, the military and the country's people "concerning the leadership and political ideology of Comandante Hugo Chavez."

soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Observer

    Chavez was dipped in socialist waters as a young man and maintained those views throughout his life. He has his own enemies back in Venezuela, that would hope he never returned and worse. He is not a man of great character and won't be missed.

    January 6, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  2. tatadiablo

    Reblogged this on Tatadiablo's Blog.

    January 5, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Reply
  3. alumette

    I would think that if Chavez died now, Cuba would not release that information until the succession is secure. Who is to know ? that's probably why he went there to begin with. I bet he had his own surgeons operate on him and the rest will be history. The last election was certainly in his favor so.....who is to say he did not plan the right moves ? Smart man.

    January 5, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  4. Tembisa

    Reblogged this on World Chaos.

    January 4, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  5. Joseph McCarthy

    This is very sad news for both Venezuela and the rest of the world. There are already far too few men like Hugo Chavez in a world where most heads of state can be and are bought off by the M.I.C. in Washington D.C. while others find themselves being intimidated by the same organization! Let's all pray for Chavez's speedy recovery.

    January 4, 2013 at 7:24 pm | Reply
    • Carlson

      I totally agree with you, Joseph. Hugo Chavez is a very good man indeed. We'll all miss him if he goes.

      January 6, 2013 at 5:06 pm | Reply
      • Observer

        Seems someone is misrepresenting Carlson again, if the forger of this comment followed Carlson's comments at all he would know that these aren't his comments. Probably some camel jockey from across the water. Stick to doing your own commentary Joseph, you have enough people who share you views without putting out these forger's comments on here.

        January 6, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  6. ANONYMOUS

    the same story for most LAC countries... Doctors are great for surgery... lots of experience... but the patience dies of "infeccion hospitalaria"... Hospital infection.
    They can cut.. but cannot keep infection from spreading.
    The recomnedation always is to spend the least posible amount of time at any hospital!

    January 4, 2013 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  7. GunnerV1

    How much do you want to bet that Obummer will attend his Funeral? Or send Joe/Hillary.

    January 4, 2013 at 7:04 pm | Reply
    • Maxx

      Can't you guys (CNN) do something to keep creeps like this GunnerV1 guy from posting pointless racist comments? It's really getting annoying that some people can't accept how democracy works and feel the need to flaunt it on every available surface.

      January 4, 2013 at 7:21 pm | Reply
      • U.S.M.C. 1371

        I don't find his post funny like his small mind thinks it is. But explain how it is racist in any way.

        January 5, 2013 at 1:42 am |
      • alumette

        stupid people have the right to put their 2 cents out there, so we can bleep them, ignore them or simply feel sorry for their ignorance and racism. They will not get ahead, anywhere, anytime soon.

        January 5, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
      • SeaCramp

        Maybe his posting is in poor taste at worst, but where is this racism? Your calling this racism is just as bad if not worse than GunnerV1's post.

        January 6, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • Sodomite

      Your hero, Nixon, tossed Mao's salad.

      January 4, 2013 at 8:14 pm | Reply
  8. jonny

    why is he in cuba is there system not capable of helping him?? seems weird

    January 4, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Reply
    • Jj

      They are the same doctors keeping Fidel Castro alive

      January 4, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Reply
      • U.S.M.C. 1371

        Cool one bomb and two evil wastes of oxygen could be gone.

        January 5, 2013 at 6:28 am |
      • Enjoy Your Police State, Clovers

        Castro and Chavez combined don't have anywhere near the amount of blood on their hands to compare them with the likes of Lincoln, Truman, Nixon or Idiot Jr.

        January 5, 2013 at 10:32 am |

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