Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hugo and Me

By Adam Liebendorfer

In Venezuela, the popular chant for solidarity with Hugo Chavez goes as follows:

"Ooooh... Aaaah... Chavez no se va."

"Ooooh... Aaaah... Chavez isn't leaving."

After hours of telephone interviews, countless Venezuelan state television reports and transcribing speeches, I was beginning to the same feeling.

For the past two weeks or so, my life has been Hugo Chavez. Though not as adventurous as going into flood country, reporting from my desk in Bogota was just as entertaining. In some ways, I know him better than my best friend. When Hugo is on painkillers, he riffs about his idyllic childhood, Nietzche, being Superman, and how Fidel Castro brought him homemade peanut butter when he was recovering in the hospital.

"He promised me lamb," Hugo blathered.

Hugo was admitted to a hospital in Cuba about a month ago and had been under the radar for most June, while his country was dealing with prison riots, blackouts and runaway inflation. Back home, where Hugo needs permission to travel abroad for more than five days, legislators were contemplating the constitutionality of Hugo governing from Cuba for a month, at times under anesthesia. At the end of the month, he announced to his people that he had undergone two surgeries, the first to remove a malignant tumor, which threatens to tarnish the indefatigable, saint-like image Hugo has established among his discipular supporters. The whole situation showed weaknesses in Hugo's socialist Bolivarian Revolution, with his brother alluding to a military coup to stay in power and many questioning whether or not it's a good idea to have all the aspirations of a revolution rest on one person.

Hugo came back in typical Hugo fashion — fanfare and metaphor-laden speeches. His arrival coincided with Venezuela's Independence Day, but it was apparent he wasn't quite up to where he was. Rumors are abound that he has colorectal cancer and will need chemotherapy, and he addressed the military Independence Day parade from his presidential palace — an odd thing for a man who has been known to give several-hour speeches in the hot sun.

The stories we did for The Post explored the underlying dynamics behind Hugo's illness. When things were still uncertain, we did a story on how Hugo's insulated himself, and later we looked at what would happen for Cuba, which receives 100,000 barrels of subsidized oil from Venezuela, should their closest ally fall from power.

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