By Jennifer Barreto-Leyva
CARACAS -- June 29, 2011 marked 20 days since Venezuelans had not heard news about their president, Hugo Chavez.
Rumors, theories and gossip were running all over the place and no one had an idea of what was going on. We only knew he was in Cuba, not a surprise.
Chavez's party, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) (United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the ONLY party allowed and approved by Chavez) his congressmen (not including the opposition congressmen) and some other spokesmen of his regime (including his brother Adam Chavez) declared repeatedly that he was O.K..
They changed their stories a number of times, and at the end, he was supposedly undergoing some medical tests in Cuba, since he only trusts Cuban doctors and medicine.
Five days ago, he appeared in a brief video with his long-beloved friend, ally and advisor, the Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro. He definitely looked different and according to the always accurate journalists specialized in politics, like Nelson Bocaranda, the video was pre-recorded. Yet, the bigger problem was that the pre-recorded video made it look like all his people were trying to hide him from the public.
Finally, Hugo Chavez, speaking from La Habana, appeared to set the record straight and clear up every possible rumor about his condition. At least that is what he tried to do...
For the very first time in 12 years since he has been in the public eye, he was reading a speech, and it didn't last more than 10 minutes.
Confusion and fear are probably the best two words to describe what Venezuelans feel right now, much more since Hugo Chavez re-appeared in the public eye. Because so far, nobody knows what will happen with us as a country.
Despite Chavez's regime and his supporters' insistence that he is ruling the country from La Habana (which is illegal according to our Constitution), there's no guarantee of anything at any level whatsoever.
I have to confess, not being clear myself of what's going on here, I've decided to ask my friend and politologist, Alfredo Ortega, on his personal opinion about what's going on here and what he sees in the future.
(Editor's note: The following interview was conducted before Chavez released news of his cancer.)
JBL: Jennifer Barreto-Leyva
AO: Alfredo Ortega
JBL: Alfredo, it's no secret that so far nobody knows what's going on with Hugo Chavez or his health condition.
AO: President Chavez is sick. I do not have any doubt about it. What is yet to be determined is the degree of the disease. Venezuelan and Cuban governments have decided not to release any medical findings on him and that is what has generated a whole world of confusion.
JBL: Many theories are all over the place about his health. For you, which one is the most accurate and why?
AO: I strongly believe he is sick. Probably sicker than what most people believe but he is excellent when it comes to putting strategies in place. His government, always following Cuba's advice, has the virtue of switching a "loss" into a "victory", that's how they are willing to take advantage of a health issue and make it look as a great comeback the day he returns to Venezuela. If necessary, they will call it "a comeback from the death."
JBL: So far the rumor is that Adam Chávez will eventually take over power of the country -- which is unconstitutional -- until his brother is in shape to return. What would that mean to the country? How would that affect or contribute positively to the already difficult situation that we have?
AO: Chávez is one of those leaders that is necessary for its movement. With him out of the equation, I see a chaotic competition to replace him. Constitutionally speaking, the vice president is the one called to finish Chavez's mandate, until 2012 when the country votes for a new President.
Adam might be the one his brother Hugo wants to replace him. Personalities such as Chavez want the power at all cost and given the situation, I think President Chavez would prefer a family member to maintain the power, although it is not constitutional. Not being constitutional compliant doesn't seem to bother Chavez's agenda.
JBL: If it is not Adam Chavez who will take the power, in your opinion, who is the most qualified to do it?
AO: If we go by the Constitution, Vice President Jaua is the only option to replace Chavez. However, Chávez's regime has shown not to be constitutionally obedient. Regimes such as Chávez's, don't hesitate to modify whatever makes them feel uncomfortable. At the end, they will do the President's will, regardless of its adherence to the law.
JBL: What's the scenario for us with an already weak chavism without Chávez?
AO: Even with a healthy Chavez running for President in 2012, I believe their days are over, at least as the regent political force in power. They will become opposition after the next election, with or without Chavez.
JBL: Do you see a chavism without Chávez?
AO: Things do not change overnight and Chavez's revolutionary movement will not be the exception. They will become much weaker than what they already are. Although Venezuelans have the ability of changing minds depending on who is in charge, the seeds Chavez has implanted will take some time before they completely expire.
JBL: How much should we believe in rumors in situations like these?
AO: Rumors are a mechanism of defense when governments don't do what they are supposed to do. In a serious country, a daily medical report would be released concerning the President's health. He went to Cuba to precisely protect and control the information regarding his health. With the President's absence reaching 23 days since he first left Venezuela going to Brazil, rumors are a natural way of trying to resolve a very important issue that should be of public domain.
JBL: As a politologist, how do you see the Venezuelan opposition?
AO: I see an opposition movement getting stronger facing the 2012 election. The necessity of unity within its political parties, plus a 12-year government whose performance is continually worse, are only two elements that have helped the dissidents make an important step towards a 2012 presidential victory.
JBL: In the supposed scenario that Hugo Chavez (whether for sickness or death) has to leave power, do you see Venezuela and its politics ready and prepared to face that challenge?
AO: No man is essential in life. No country files bankrupt and closes. If Chavez's absence remains or he dies, he will be replaced the same way any other man is replaced in similar situations. With such a dreadful result after almost thirteen years of Chavez's government, any other administration will have the great chance of performing better than Chavez's so-called revolution.
When Chavez finally spoke to us, he confessed that besides having issues with his knee, he had a cancerous tumor removed. Yet, he spoke with a ridiculous romanticism for his revolution and extolled admiration for his friend Fidel Castro.
He looks considerably sicker, skinnier and acted like a sad, scared weak person. After what happened in Venezuela on April 14th 2002, it's really hard for Venezuelans to believe one more theatrical declaration.
Right now, for us, it is all about sitting and waiting until the next episode of this sitcom that has become my poor country, Venezuela.
>Learn more about Jennifer:
Jennifer Barreto-Leyva lives in Caracas, Venezuela where when this 5"11 venezolana is not defending the rights of her clients as a lawyer or inspiring people as a motivational speaker, she is an outspoken defender on the rights of plus-size people.
Jennifer is Miss Plump Venezuela and the first Latina who participated and won the Miss Universe for Plus-size title. She is also the first venezolana plus-size model and, consequently, is credited for introducing the plus-size modeling division throughout Latin America.
Since 1999, Jennifer has penned a regular column, Tu Rincon con Jen, for the only online site dedicated to plus size people in Spanish, gordos.com.
Because of her sassy outspokenness and willingness to force the issue that beauty does not lie with a person's weight, Jennifer has found her message much in demand from South and North America to Europe and Asia.
As a result, Jennifer has launched the first spanish-language magazine in history for plus-size people -- Belleza XL.
In addition, Jennifer continues to provide constant inspiration for women of all sizes through her blog, Facebook page. She says that she always knew that when it came to defending who she was, no one was going to do it for her.
I saw myself different (as a child), not only when it comes to my size but my beauty as well. I've always had to deal with people's cruelty because they think I'm ugly and have no hesitation letting me know that. I had to be strong and mature when no one around was. I'm beautiful because I've decided and feel that way, not because everyone else says it is so.