Many Venezuelans have begun to ponder life without their leader. Hugo Chávez, who has ruled the Latin American country for the past 12 years, has been seen only sporadically in public lately and revealed that he is battling cancer on June 30. The 56-year-old leader is currently recovering from a surgery he underwent last month to remove a tumor from his pelvic region and stopped filming his weekly television broadcast, Hello President over the past month.
Appearing fatigued, the Venezuelan leader addressed thousands of his supporters on Monday from a balcony of the presidential palace. “No one should believe that my presence here…means that we’ve won this battle. No, we’ve begun to climb the hill,” Chávez said. “We’ve begun to beat the illness that was incubated inside my body.”
According to the Associated Press, the unusual silence from Chávez has been met with very mixed reactions from Venezuelans. “I feel more peaceful without Chávez talking every day,” said a 38-year-old computer programmer named Carlos Rivas. “He’s mortal like anyone else. A Venezuela without Chávez is possible.” His wife, Rosa Lopez, said she believed the country was ready for a change. The 32-year-old electrical engineer said many young professionals like herself have left the country due to low salaries and annual inflation rates that have floated over 30 percent over the past three years.
Those who support Chávez are clearly not happy, holding daily rallies to wish him a speedy recovery. Rosiri de Blanco, a 41-year-old mother of four, said without Chávez, there is nothing. The woman has loyally watched Hello President and received subsidized food from the markets set up by the Venezuelan government. When her home was damaged by the heavy rains that affected the country last November, de Blanco and her neighbors moved into a public housing complex. She recently attended a small Mass for Chávez’s recovery.
A retired construction worker named Andres Avelino, also affected by the torrential rains, credited the president’s administration for providing his government pension. The 60-year-old told the AP that he believes heavily in his president and prefers not to imagine a future without him. “Without Chavez, it would get ugly in Venezuela,” he said.