(Reuters) – Hugo Chavez’s picture is everywhere in Venezuela and may remain ubiquitous for some time, despite the president’s serious illness. But soon the image may only be a Mao-like symbol of regime continuity.
Chavismo, Hugo Chavez’s unique and malleable blend of militarism, historical revisionism, command economics, and knee-jerk anti-Americanism, is a movement intimately tied to the leader and his almost messianic bond with Venezuela’s poor.
But Chavez’s cancer, which, by all accounts seems to have taken a turn for the worse, poses a dilemma for the movement.
Chavismo, which previously functioned without questioning Chavez’s oft-repeated pledge to govern until 2021 or even 2031, is now contemplating life without its charismatic founder.
The imagery of the regime already seems to stress continuity. Posters urging supporters to keep pushing ahead are all over government buildings, showing Chavez at various stages of his life.
The images range from the youthful paratrooper leading an unsuccessful coup in 1992 to the contemporary cancer-stricken leader — bald, bloated and wearing dark sunglasses,
Outside of Venezuela, a strong current of opinion assumes that if Chavez loses his battle with cancer, the current government will unravel or perhaps even be replaced by a business-friendly opposition.
Viewed from the ground, that does not seem likely. Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate in this October’s presidential election, has so far not made significant inroads into Chavez’ political support.
The youthful Capriles, a state governor, still has plenty of time to build support. But the ruling party is formidably organized, with plenty of control over vital levers of power.
Even if Chavez becomes too sick to continue the campaign this summer — probably Chavismo’s nightmare scenario — his anointed successor could easily win power.
If so, the image and reputation of Hugo Chavez is likely to dominate the political scene for some time.
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