Uncertainty regarding Chavez leaves Venezuelan expatriates with questions

The World

Chavez Poster (Photo: AJstream/Flickr)

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez is battling for his life after cancer surgery in Cuba and missed his inauguration in Caracas on Thursday.

It's an absence leaving a trail of questions for Venezuelans living abroad, wondering what’s next.

Will Chávez, a protégé of Fidel Castro and foe of Washington, continue pioneering what he calls “21st Century Socialism,” and, if he can’t, what about the next leader?

It’s a situation that has Venezuelans on edge, playing out like a Latin American magic realism novel, or one of the country’s popular telenovelas.

It started Dec. 10, when President Hugo Chávez traveled to Cuba for his fourth cancer surgery. Since then, he has disappeared from the public and is believed to be in grave condition. Meanwhile, his inauguration — the start of his 14th year in power, his third term in office —was slated for Thursday. The presidents of Uruguay and Bolivia said they would be there. But Chávez? He didn't show.

In Venezuela, Chávez supporters are holding street rallies to show their support. They’re chanting, “The constitution is the revolution!” They wave what’s known as the “Little Blue Book,” a pocket-sized copy of Venezuela’s constitution, which Chávez revamped after taking power in 1999.

But those revamped laws are up for debate. Critics said that Chávez and his supporters are stretching the constitution to protect the president’s power.

“The first thing to prove is, was he elected by popular vote? Yes. Was he declared president? Yes. Has he been sworn in? No, not yet,” said Asdrúbal Aguiar, a Venezuelan law professor and former judge with the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, in an interview with Globovisión, a TV channel critical of Chávez. “So, if this doesn’t happen on Jan. 10, we need to review the constitutions of 1961, 1952, 1947, 1936. We must check all of our constitutions.”

To Venezuelans in the United States, it can look confusing.

“They’re not really creating a climate of institutional authority in Venezuela,” said Otto Scheuren, an advertising executive in Los Angeles.

He left Venezuela for a better job in the U.S. 11 years ago, shortly after a failed coup attempt against Chávez in 2002. He keeps up with the news back home through friends, family, and Venezuelan papers online.

“Now that Chávez is sick, it’s even more obvious,” Scheuren said. “We have a constitution, but now he’s asked for an extension and was granted one. So then why do we even have a constitution? We Venezuelans have no idea where we’re headed to — we haven’t known for years.”

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.