Hugo Chavez is back. The Venezuelan president’s return to Caracas July 4 — four days after announcing he had been treated for a cancerous tumor in Cuba — was marked by a booming address to supporters from the balcony of the presidential palace. “The return has begun,” he said. “This is the best medicine for whatever illness,” he added. Venezuela marked its bicentennial the next day. Chavez, absent, followed (and tweeted) the celebration while recuperating.
Chavez’s cancer treatment led headlines last week and raised concerns over a potential power struggle between Chavista bureaucrats and nationalist army generals in the event the president becomes too ill to govern. And with the consolidation of Venezuela’s institutions into Chavez’s singular persona, a sudden fall could plunge the government into crisis.
“The level of uncertainty is huge,” a source in Caracas told me. “No one knows what will happen next week, for example, or the one after.” Such uncertainty means the government must present an image of strength and unity. Shakeups in the cabinet and military command, speculated to be a precondition for a potential succession, have not been announced. “If he were to make the changes right away it would be a signal that his health issues are more serious than expected,” Latin America analyst Boris Segura told Bloomberg.
The government maintains Chavez is recovering rapidly. Meanwhile, Tuesday’s parade offered a peek at some Venezuelan military hardware. El Universal has a list. And in other news, the armed standoff at the Rodeo II prison entered its fourth week.
On June 30, army soldiers acting on an intelligence tip raided a FARC camp in the jungle-covered Andes mountains of southwestern Colombia. The soldiers were hunting for rebel leader Alfonso Cano. Upon arrival, however, Afonso had apparently slipped out; leaving behind clothes, cigarette butts and signs of his two pet dogs. According to the recent reports, Alfonso is on the run, with three battalions (about 1000 men) of Colombian soldiers in pursuit. There is also a possibility Cano has as few as a half-dozen guards with him, cut-off from FARC columns.
The FARC launched retaliatory attacks in several nearby towns beginning Saturday morning. LatAm Communiqué reports rebels detonated a chiva bomb outside a police station in Toribio, Cauca, near the department border zone where Cano is presumably hiding. One police officer and two civilians were killed. Dozens more civilians were injured. The rebels shot up the town and threw propane bombs into its prominent buildings. “Because of the explosion, the town is without energy and the majority of the houses and commercial establishments lost their roofs and windows,” Mayor Carlos Alberto Banguero said. “The town is in ruins.”
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said his government will increase security in the region. Santos also authorized the army to destroy houses used by rebels in attacks on security forces.