Since coming to power in 1999, Venezuelan dictator and socialist thug Hugo Chavez has become a ubiquitous presence on television, typically interrupting programming so he can blather on about the joys of Communism and the state controlling every aspect of your life. Yet a couple of weeks ago, while visiting the island prison of Cuba, Chavez took ill and underwent surgery. He was reportedly only going to be hospitalized for a few days but hasn't been heard from since.
Mr. Chávez has been in Cuba since June 8, when he was felled by a pelvic abscess for which he underwent an operation two days later. Soon after, Venezuelan officials said the flamboyant leader was in good health but would recuperate in Havana for a "few days."
Those few days have stretched to 11, punctuated by false alarms over the date of his return. On Monday, a ruling party lawmaker said Mr. Chávez was hours from touching down in Caracas and urged his supporters to prepare a "tremendous" welcome for him. The claim was quickly refuted on the Twitter account of Venezuela's Communications Minister Andres Izarra.
On Tuesday, Mr. Chávez made another virtual appearance. In a statement posted on Mr. Izarra's Twitter account, he lamented the death of another Venezuelan official who had sought medical treatment in Cuba.
It's striking what a horror show the Venezuelan health care system must be that even the guy running the country (into the ground) can't have an operation there. Despite the best efforts of propagandists like Michael Moore, Cuba isn't exactly a shining example of quality health care, especially when you consider the death of that other Venezuelan official.
The former official also said there was a possibility that Mr. Chávez would be hospitalized when he returned to Venezuela, another potential sign of the severity of his ailment. If it was a matter of simply treating an abscess, Mr. Chávez would likely not need a hospital at that point, the official said.
It's also worth noting that Chavez has become quite popular on Twitter, but has been about as quiet as Anthony Weiner on there since early June. Eighteen days since his last missive, although maybe he's just got a poor connection while recuperating on the island paradise. Curiously, while there's unrest in Venezuela, their dear leader is nowhere to be found.
Officials have tried to be reassuring, saying 56-year-old Chavez was recovering well and was continuing to give orders from Cuba and keep abreast of developments in Venezuela.
But many citizens remain unconvinced. All the more so that a riot last week in a prison that left 25 people dead, and an electricity crisis -- both events that would normally elicit a quick response, and perhaps hours of chatter, from the president -- have prompted no media appearance at all from Chavez.
"It's all very dark, opaque and mysterious," Ignacio Avalos, a sociology professor at the Central University of Venezuela, told AFP.