News / Americas

Ailing Chavez Photos Stir Emotion in Venezuela

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez smiles in between his daughters, Rosa Virginia (R) and Maria while recovering from cancer surgery in Havana in this photograph released by the Ministry of Information on Feb. 15, 2013.Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez smiles in between his daughters, Rosa Virginia (R) and Maria while recovering from cancer surgery in Havana in this photograph released by the Ministry of Information on Feb. 15, 2013.
x
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez smiles in between his daughters, Rosa Virginia (R) and Maria while recovering from cancer surgery in Havana in this photograph released by the Ministry of Information on Feb. 15, 2013.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez smiles in between his daughters, Rosa Virginia (R) and Maria while recovering from cancer surgery in Havana in this photograph released by the Ministry of Information on Feb. 15, 2013.
Reuters
President Hugo Chavez's supporters joyfully brandished first photographs of him since cancer surgery two months ago while opposition activists said the images were worrying evidence of Venezuela's political vacuum.

In a first proof of life since his six-hour operation in Cuba on December 11, authorities published four photos on Friday showing Chavez lying in a hospital bed smiling next to his daughters.

Underlining the gravity of his situation, however, an accompanying statement said the 58-year-old socialist leader was breathing through a tracheal tube and struggling to speak.

Within hours, the photos were on sale in Caracas streets, where some of Chavez's passionate supporters clutched them to their hearts as if they were a religious icon.

"It doesn't matter that he can't talk. We understood his message,'' said Aniluz Serrano, 57, selling prints in colonial Bolivar Square, named for Venezuela's independence hero and Chavez's idol, Simon Bolivar. "When I saw this photo, I thought how beautiful, here he is calling on the people to keep fighting. When I see this smile, I can see Christ, I can see Simon Bolivar.''

The photos and new medical details confirmed what most Venezuelans already assumed - that Chavez is seriously ill and may not be able to return to the presidency.

He has ruled the South American OPEC nation since 1999, maintaining huge popularity among the poor thanks to oil-financed welfare policies and his common touch, while alienating private business with nationalizations and taking an authoritarian line on opponents.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro and other allies say Chavez remains the head of state, signing decrees and giving instructions - sometimes in writing - from Havana.

"President Chavez in full recovery,'' was the headline of various state media. "He's alive ... he will be back,'' said Idan Sotto, 24, buying one of the photos in downtown Caracas.

Picking over photos

Opposition politicians believe such optimism is misplaced, given Chavez's obvious frailty, and are renewing demands for more detailed information on his condition and ability to rule.

Should he be formally declared unable to govern, an election would be called within 30 days, probably pitting Maduro against opposition leader and state governor Henrique Capriles.

Capriles lost an October presidential election, and the opposition coalition is struggling to remain united, with some pushing for a more militant approach to Chavez's absence.

 "Venezuelan sovereignty is being given away to the Cuban government,'' one of the most strident opposition leaders, Maria Corina Machado, told Reuters in reaction to the photos.

 "It is obvious the photos were to make the world believe Hugo Chavez is in charge of government but what they've done is precisely the opposite ... I'd like to ask a question to any democratic citizen in the world: could you imagine a situation in which you have 69 days with no word from your president?''

 As well as predictable political bickering, the photos spawned a plethora of online scrutiny and theories.

Some hunted for evidence of image editing. Others simply mocked the photos as the typical recourse of an autocratic and secretive government trying to spin a dire situation.

"It's hard to see why reading the dreadfully boring Granma would generate smiles,'' said columnist Andres Canizalez, in an opposition newspaper, referring to the Cuban Communist Party's daily newspaper that Chavez is clutching in the photos.

About 20 students protested for a third day in front of the Cuban Embassy in Caracas, standing in chains and holding copies of the constitution as police stood on guard.

"What certainty do we have with these photos? We need an independent medical board to go to Havana. It's our right as Venezuelans to know what's happening,'' said one protester Alexa Hauber, 25.

Many Venezuelans commented on the irony of the loss of Chavez's voice given his famously garrulous and bombastic rhetoric - from a thundering denunciation of then-U.S. President George W. Bush as the "devil'' at the United Nations, to hours-long, meandering speeches that have been a staple of political life at home.

Though it is impossible to predict what the next few months may hold for Venezuela, all sides agree Chavez will leave a lasting imprint on the country.

"Chavismo will probably last generations. It will not die,'' Goldman Sachs analyst Alberto Ramos said, seeing a parallel with 1950s populist Argentine leader Juan Peron whose memory and ideology remain highly influential.

"The death of Peron was not the death of Peronism in Argentina.''

You May Like

WHO: Anti-Ebola Efforts Should Focus on West Africa

Official says WHO is 'reasonably confident' countries bordering those hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak are not seeing the virus crossing their borders More

South Sudan Crisis Threatens Development

Economic costs and lost development opportunities in South Sudan have erased what little progress the country has made since independence in 2011 More

Ukrainian PM Warns: Russia May Try to Disrupt Sunday Poll

Arseniy Yatsenyuk orders full security mobilization for parliamentary election to prevent ‘terrorist acts’ from being carried out More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Multimedia Canada Capital Tense as Parliament Reopens

PM Harper says Wednesday's shooting, along with another incident this week that led to a soldier's death, are grim reminders that Canada is not immune to terrorism
More

Video US Political Parties Face Challenge Motivating Hispanics

As November 4 midterm elections loom, Latino activists, who are mostly Democrats, say they are disappointed and angry with president over immigration reform
More

Multimedia Canadian Prime Minister Speaks After Shots Fired in Parliament

Stephen Harper said Wednesday's attack, along with another incident this week that led to a soldier's death, are grim reminders that Canada is not immune to terrorism
More

Head of Mexican Cartel Appears in US Court

Juan Francisco Saenz-Tamez was arrested by US federal agents while shopping in Texas
More

Egypt Sets Appeal Date for Al Jazeera Journalists

Journalists were convicted in July on charges of aiding terrorist organization in verdict condemned internationally
More

Canadian Soldier Dies in Car Attack Linked to Radical Islam

Police shoot and kill driver - suspected Islamic radical - after he rammed into two soldiers Monday in parking lot in Quebec province
More