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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Former El Salvador President to Await Graft Trial in Jail, Not at Home

Francisco Flores, who had been on the run until early Sept. before turning himself in, accused of misappropriating $15M in 2001 earthquake relief donations
More

US Won't Impede Venezuela's UN Security Council Bid

Washington is clearly unhappy, however, with idea of country joining the Council, which has the task of overseeing international peace and security
More

Video Dehydration Is Top Killer of Southern Arizona's Migrants

US Border Patrol's search and rescue unit launches 'blue blinking light of life program' - a series of poles strategically placed throughout desert that emit high-intensity blue light
More

US Steps Up Pressure on Guatemala Over Labor Rights

Trade representative says Obama administration will push ahead with legal action under free trade agreement to make country meet international standards
More

Video US Attempts Crackdown on Trafficking Along Southern Border

Nogales, Arizona, notoriously known as 'tunnel city,' used by traffickers to smuggle humans, narcotics into US and Border Patrol responds with new technologies
More

Video Arizona Non-Profit Helps Keep Dehydrated Migrants Alive

The Sonoran Desert, a common crossing point for illegal immigrants, is one of North America's hottest places
More