Hugo Chávez’s Cancer, Authoritarianism, and the U.S.

Throughout June speculation and uncertainty regarding Hugo Chávez’s health increased with each passing day. Finally, on June 30, Chávez informed the Venezuelan people that he had undergone surgery to remove a tumor with “cancerous cells.” His return is still to be determined. This secret, Kremlinesque management of Chávez’s illness has demonstrated a major weakness in Venezuela’s current political arrangement: its total dependence upon an elected autocrat and the cult of personality that has increasingly become Chavismo. If Chávez is incapacitated or dies, a struggle for succession will likely occur, yet if he returns to governing it will only embolden the opposition and weaken his hold on Venezuela. The United States has an opportune moment to: dispel the notion that Venezuela is democratic, spotlight Chávez’s dangerous foreign policy, and increase pressure on the Organization of American States to perform its role as democratic watchdog.

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