Chávez still holding on despite aggressive cancer

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is battling what is believed to be an aggressive cancer, but he has vowed to continue running for a third term in office. The election is set for Oct. 7. Chávez has endured two surgeries since being diagnosed last year and traveled to Cuba again last week for a series of radiation treatments.

As Hugo Chávez arrived in Cuba for a third round of cancer treatment, his health has become the main factor in his re-election effort.

Michael Shifter is president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

“If we have learned anything from Chávez over 13 years, it is that we shouldn’t rule him out,” said Shifter.

Political analysts believe this could be his toughest election. Chávez is accused of mismanaging Venezuela’s oil wealth and devastating the rest of the economy with his firebrand left-wing politics. Many of the business elite have left the country.

But Chávez has won strong support among Venezuela’s poor by using oil revenue to boost social programs.

“Chávez, despite the dismal results and terrible governance, still has a powerful and emotional connection with a lot of Venezuelans,” Shifter said. “Many Venezuelans, poor Venezuelans especially, think, believe, that he cares about them. And he is trying to do the best he can.”

Chávez faces his toughest opponent yet in Henrique Capriles, who vows to continue the social programs that Chávez started while moving the country toward a more market-oriented economy.

But many believe the outcome of the election will hinge on the president’s health. Some question why he has refused to step aside while undergoing cancer treatment. He has never disclosed the details of his illness.

Political psychologist and psychiatrist Jerrold Post says Chávez is the quintessential narcissist who can’t come to terms with his mortality.

“He has increasingly come to see himself as the very essence of Venezuela,” said Post. “Just as Castro is Cuba, Cuba, Castro. Chávez is Venezuela, Venezuela is Chávez in his mind. And it is inconceivable to have a Venezuela without him at its head.”

Post says Venezuela is entering a dangerous period. He believes Chávez has imposed his timetable on the nation and wants to secure his legacy in both Venezuelan and Latin American history.

“Were his opponent to be moving ahead in the polls, I think it is quite possible he could take violent action against his opponent,” he said. “But what I think is most important, and I can’t predict exactly how he will act, is that this is a man under immense stress.”

Chávez’ current round of radiation therapy is expected to take four to five weeks. He has refused to relinquish any authority to his subordinates and will travel back and forth to Cuba for treatment.

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