Hugo Chavez – the loud, omnipresent president of Venezuela – is nowhere to be found. Normally, between his tirades against capitalist media and his Tweets on socialist reform, Venezuelans do not go a day without hearing from him; however, since his surgery on a pelvic abscess in Cuba on June 10, Chavez has been conspicuously absent.
Chavez’s silence is particularly strange given recent events: a riot at Rodeo Prison last week left 25 dead and an enormous electricity crisis in many parts of the country. The riot was provoked by a serious prison overcrowding problem (though Venezuelan prisons are designed to hold 15,000 inmates, they are currently holding approximately 50,000). When the Rodeo Prison inmates rebelled as a result of their conditions within the prison, the National Guard showed up and a stand-off ensued.
Officials have been tight-lipped about Chavez’s lack of response to these events. Why? My guess is that, with elections approaching in 2012 and the president’s popularity slipping, Chavez’s supporters are attempting to preserve his image as an all-powerful superhero. He may be either physically incapable of appearing before his nation, or does not have a sufficient solution for the Rodeo Prison riot.
“They are trying to pass off the problem as minor, that it hit him by chance while he was in Havana and that he can rule from Cuba for a while… This could be a way to set up a triumphal return. But Chavez has to reappear soon, because otherwise it could prove dangerous to his image,” a sociology professor told AFP.