Late last night, the Venezuelan government announced that Hugo Chávez’s health had deteriorated to some uncertain degree, only further adding to the confusion of Venezuelans. Some were seen praying for Chávez even while a government official criticized anti-Chavez opponents for seeking “violence.” All of this only adds to an atmosphere that was already fertile for all kinds of allegations, (including the report that Chávez has secretly returned to Cuba for more treatments). As Greg Weeks commented, “expect plenty of Hugo Chávez rumors today.” And all of this after students and other anti-Chávez groups took to the streets to protest and demand information about his health.
Lost in all of this, of course, is the actual state of governance in Venezuela, now and going forward. One thing that strikes me is that all of this rumor-mongering and half-reports on Chávez’s health could only be a further obstacle to institutionalizing his reforms. By focusing strictly on his deteriorating health and the possibility of when he might die, the narrative on Venezuelan politics in both Venezuela and in the media reinforces a focus on Chávez that denies the more complicated realities and possibilities of Veneuzelan politics in the present and the future. Whereas such discussions could focus on the post-Chávez transition and could examine possible ways in which his reforms could be further institutionalized, instead many end up just discussing whether Chávez is or isn’t dead (thanks in no part to official reports that are often lacking in details, creating rife circumstances for speculation); this only reifies the equation of “Chávez-as-Venezuela’s government” narrative. This isn’t to say the changes begun under Chávez over the last fourteen-plus years will automatically disappear with him. But if he, rather than his social policies, continues to be the sole focus among both his opponents and his supporters, they only reinforce the cult of personality of Chávez, and raise questions about the possibility of continuing, reforming, or undoing his social programs once he’s gone.