With Hugo Chavez in Hospital, Venezuela Frets Over Its Future

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No one ever got rich betting on the demise of Hugo Chávez. As a leftist Venezuelan paratrooper officer he led a failed coup in 1992, but he was let out of prison just two years later and started campaigning for the presidency, which he won in 1998. In 2002 Chávez himself was the target of a coup; it threw him out of power for a few days, but he survived it. Ditto a 2004 recall referendum. He won re-election as President in 2006 and then a 2009 plebiscite that lets him run as often as he wants.

So I’m not about to assume, as so many are at the moment, that surgery for a pelvic abscess — which has kept Chávez laid up and unusually silent in a Havana hospital since June 10 — threatens to end his political career if not his life. True, there is genuine cause for speculation about Chávez’s health, if only because the world is getting little more than Twitter messages right now from a leader who is famous for interrupting Venezuelan TV broadcasts so he can talk for hours on end about whatever occurs to him, usually his imperialista enemy, the U.S. But medical experts say it can take a few weeks to recover from abdominal abscesses, and that may well be what Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro was referring to over the weekend when he said Chávez is “battling for his health.”

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