Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Speculation Abounds After Chavez's Cancer Reappears

While visiting a truck factory in his home state, President Hugo Chavez said that he will undergo surgery again, as doctors have found a new legion in his pelvic area (see video here). “I am in good physical condition to meet this battle,” he stated. He added that the lesion is “two centimeters in diameter.” According to Communications Minister Andres Izarra, Chavez chose to make the announcement at the end of Venezuela’s Carnaval time, so as to not overshadow the festivities. Chavez later said that the operation will likely take place in Cuba in the next few days.

Over the weekend, some Venezuelan journalists swapped rumors on Twitter that Chavez had traveled to Cuba for his third operation. Broadcast and radio journalist Nelson Bocaranda was one of the first to do so (he was also the first journalist to break the news last year that Chavez was in Cuba undergoing surgery). Communications Minister Izarra went on to say that asides from the fact that Chavez did travel to Cuba for a check-up, these rumors were untrue. “The President has decided which information to share, there are some things he has kept back. There is a debate over whether public figures have a right or not to privacy and I believe they do have one,” he said, according to El Universal.

It is a debate that will likely intensify in the coming weeks as Venezuela’s campaign season rolls on. Foreign Policy analyzes what the announcement means for Venezuela’s opposition, with a blunt headline that questions, “how do you campaign against a cancer victim?” The article notes that opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles has mostly avoided the topic up until now. However:

“Behind closed doors, his advisors are concerned. The uncertainty prevents consensus on strategy. They fear that if they make cancer an issue, Chávez will use his storied communication skills to play the sympathy card and eke out a win -- either for himself or a designated successor. They are also wary of the disease forcing Capriles off his well-rehearsed message of reconciliation and progress in a post-Chávez Venezuela.”

Other media speculated about what this latest announcement implies about Chavez’s health and his ability to campaign and govern. The Miami Herald notes that without more details, it is difficult for doctors to speculate about the seriousness of Chavez’s condition. But the return of another tumor does signal that the cancer is aggressive and resistant to treatment, the newspaper reports. “All of these political things aside, he is someone who is fighting for his life," a professor of oncology told the Wall Street Journal. The Associated Press had similarly grim predictions, noting that despite Chavez’s resistance and pleas for privacy, the curability of his cancer is again a major factor in the race.

News Briefs

  • The New York Times with a blog post critiquing a high-speed rail project in Venezuela’s western plains, funded by the Chinese government. The train connects some of Venezuela’s most rural and sparsely populated towns, “a train from nowhere to nowhere,” the Times quips. The newspaper argues that even if the rail is a symbolic investment in Venezuela’s impoverished interior, the $200 million project is an ineffective way to meet the needs of the struggling farmers that the rail line is supposed to serve.
  • Blog Caracas Chronicles with an interesting although brief look at the Brazilian campaign operative currently working for Chavez presidential campaign, a man who has coordinated victories for Brazil’s Lula and Dilma Rousseff, and who was also involved in the successful campaigns of El Salvador’s Mauricio Funes and Peru’s Ollanta Humala.
  • Reuters reports that a woman pushing a baby stroller in downtown El Paso, Texas, was “struck by an assault rifle bullet fired from across the border” in Ciudad Juarez. According to Reuters, the bullet was apparently fired during a gunfight in Juarez, as police tried to stop an attempted carjacking.
  • The judge overseeing the case of Guatemala military dictator Efrain Rios Montt has stepped down due to a complaint filed by the defense, the AP reports. The move follows a request by Montt that the case against him be dropped. The military strongman is standing trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
  • The LA Times with a brief note on Colombia’s decision to withdraw a plan which would expand the power of military courts when trying alleged human rights abuses. The decision was criticized by former President Alvaro Uribe via Twitter, says Colombia Reports.
  • Inmates in the Apodaca prison, where alleged Zetas members killed at least 44 members of the Gulf Cartel earlier this week, attempted to start a fire inside the penitentiary, Reuters reports. The fire was apparently in response to the announcement that three inmates, all members of the Zetas according to Excelsior, would be moved to a new location.
  • Jamaica’s top security official said that gang feuds are behind the island’s rising violence rates, a conclusion supported by a recent report by the United Nation Development Program. Jamaica registered 1,125 homicides in 2011, a drop from 2010 but still significant enough to rank as the world’s third highest homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants.
  • Colombian think-tank Indepaz released a study profiling the actions and presence of criminals bands, or BACRIMS, across the country. Indepaz measures BACRIM presence in 406 municipalities in 31 departments, a slight increase from the group’s 2010 study. The report follows another study released February 8 by think-tank the Nuevo Arco Iris Corporation, which stated that the BACRIMS are currently active in 209 of Colombia's 1,103 municipalities, in much of the same area once controlled by paramilitary group the AUC.
  • The Miami Herald reports on increased surveillance measures in Argentina, intended to fight terrorism but raising concerns from civil liberties groups. The measures include a new central government database which will keep fingerprints and facial scans on file.