The news that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will undergo repeat surgery in Cuba for cancer has shaken up what already promised to be a tumultuous presidential campaign.
Supporters of Chavez reacted by oscillating between acceptance of the explanation that the surgery would be minor and their hero could pull through, to contemplating a future without Chavez. Chavez has himself remarked that he is not immortal, but that the revolution is strong enough to continue without him.
Now it is uncertain whether the election will be held in October. as scheduled.
Wishes for Chavez' recovery were tweeted by the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski: "I wish my rival a successful operation, a quick recovery and a long life."
This was chivalrous coming from a candidate who has been severely pummeled by the Chavista controlled media. He has already been branded as a tool of "international Zionism which threatens to destroy the planet." A halakhically Jewish descendant of Holocaust survivors, although a practicing Catholic, he has been called a Nazi who wants to eradicate immigrants, mestizos and blacks as well as a homosexual.
Last Friday Hugo Chavez went on the air to personally lambast his opponent, saying “We’re going to pulverize you in the October election!”
The president added: “You have a pig’s tail, a pig’s ears; you snort like a pig. You’re a low-life pig.”
Chavez claims that his opponent's commitment to maintain social programs for the poor was a trick and an attempt to deceive the voters that would ultimately fail, taunting, “Who’s going to believe you, bourgeoisie, if we know you so well?”
Capriles has responded that he is not concerned about the attacks, because he expects them to boomerang and increase support for him. In an interview with Universal, he did make an allusion to the differences between himself and Chavez both in terms of age and in terms of physical appearance:
This is a race where there is a tired runner and another one full of stamina. The tired runner weighs how to strike the finishing line: either putting the skids over his competitor or throwing anything for one to fall down. This is a vigorous runner, who traipses all over town making a proposal to take the country out from stagnation. There are 18 years of difference between the two of us. A whole generation. Therefore, time has come for him to give way. Insults and demeaning are business as usual in a weary, big, heavy boxer. He tries to give some punch to knock down a slimmer, more agile and energetic competitor. It is David versus Goliath.
Chavez, if his health permits it, remains the favorite because he is a folk hero and because the government, relying on high oil prices and loans (particularly from the Chinese), is planning to create an immense feel-good factor by expanding social welfare programs in the run-up to the elections.
Chavez has maintained strong ties with Iran, Russia and China, and thumbed his nose at the United States, while supporting the Palestinian Authority's unilateral bid for membership as an independent country in the United Nations. He ordered his administration to sever diplomatic ties with Israel early in 2009, slamming the Jewish State for its counter terrorism mini-war, Operation Cast Lead, against the Hamas terrorist rulers of Gaza.