Almost a month after his last public appearance and from his surgery to continue the treatment against an aggressive cancer, Hugo Chávez remains in intensive care in Cuba with multiple respiratory, abdominal and infectious complications.
Chávez never delegated power to his Vice President Nicolas Maduro, he only obtained a temporary permit to travel to Cuba, but he supposedly remained in total control of the presidency. Nobody knows the true extent of such delegation of duties or if Chávez is actually awake or has been in coma all this time.
The information provided by the regime has been more than contradictory. The only source of information has been the social media. If Chávez has been in a coma all this time, then we have been in the presence of people who usurped power and they have been running an illegal government.
Hugo Chávez was aware of the potential complications of this new surgery and he clearly said that in case he became unable to take oath on January 10th, or in case of his death, his chosen one to run for president was Nicolás Maduro.
And the Constitution in Venezuela is clear: the mandate began on January 10th, 2007 and ends January 10th, 2013, and if the elected president can’t take the oath that day the Assembly’s President assumes power temporarily and calls for new elections within a maximum of 30 days.
But for Cuba, which receives more than $10 billion a year plus other benefits from Venezuela, this is not acceptable. Fidel and Raúl Castro have been close friends and supporters of Chávez's regime for economic reasons. Thanks to Hugo Chávez and his fake revolution, the Cuban dictatorial regime has been able to survive this past decade. For Castro’s regime, the future of Chávez will also mark Cuba’s future.
The Castro brothers have become the conciliators and advisors of the two most powerful acolytes of Chávez as well as of some fractions from the military. Castro has been coordinating the meetings among Diosdado Cabello, the president of Venezuelan National Assembly, Vice President Maduro, Chávez’s family and some sectors of the military.
They also initiated an international lobby with Brazil and other countries to gather support for their plans on Venezuela. They have developed the thesis of the “continuation” of the government: for them the re-election of Chávez last October was just a confirmation or referendum of his regime, and for that reason he doesn’t need to be inaugurated or take the presidential oath.
Venezuela is far from been a democratic country. Hugo Chávez has been ruling the country in an authoritarian and abusive way, and the only quasi democratic side to it was that periodical general elections. Without those elections the country becomes a dictatorship. Neither Maduro nor Cabello were elected. Chávez transformed Venezuela in his big circus but now the clowns have taken control of the circus. We don't know if they are keeping Chavez artificially alive just to keep control of the country; only an independent medical board can determine his current condition.
The alternatives for Chávez’s cronies are five: 1) Accept the impossibility for Chávez to return to power and call for an election in 30 days. In this case they may have a good chance to win due to the Chávez’s influence and memory, as well as the drama that would surround such an election; 2) Reduce Chávez’s sedation and mobilize the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal to inaugurate the new term in Cuba; 3) Keep control of the government by force; 4) Convince some members of the opposition of a transition regime; 5) The unconstitutional an undemocratic interpretation of the Constitution that would allow them to give Chávez a special permit of 90 days, renewable, to delay the inauguration.
They need the time to consolidate their power without Chávez and to buy more time in control of the institutions and cash flow, so they can also project themselves as the continuation of Hugo Chávez revolution. They also need more time for the campaign and to create the image of a possible government without Chávez but with Chávez ideals.
For the opposition, an election in 30 days will be a major tragedy because they don’t have a clear candidate. Even though the “Mesa de Unidad” has been playing an extraordinary role creating a coordinated effort among numerous opposition groups and parties, their ideological differences and their mutual suspiciousness are still a great challenge.
Sadly, Venezuela will face a major political, economic, institutional and social crisis in the upcoming months. Several countries and groups will try to control the game, but now it is a Pandora box, anything can happen.
If the democratic opposition begins to change Cuba’s game and become more active in developing alternatives and implementing a democratic fight, as well as implementing some strategic planning, the game can change in favor of recovering democracy in Venezuela.
Dr. Carlos Ponce is general coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, co-editor of the political magazine "Nueva Politica" and member of the Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy and the ISC of the Community of Democracies.