To read the US press you'd be forgiven for thinking that Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez is already dead, or at least so near to death's door that it is only a matter of time before he succumbs to the grim reaper. Take for example today's Los Angeles Times: 'Expect a stealth leadership struggle in post-Chavez Venezuela' or ABC news: 'U.S. Venezuelans Reflect on Chávez's Fate and Legacy'. But although the Venezuelan leader is undoubtedly ill and too ill to attend last week's inauguration ceremony to be sworn in as President, it is by no means clear as to whether the prognosis of his illness is as dire as those who wish for his demise are assuming.
A friend who is in the island has contacted me recently and has told me that the view that Chavez is to die is not one that is prevalent. There is some anxiety about the political situation and the fact that this illness has handed some advantage to the Veneezuelan opposition in terms of the ideological struggle to maintain a revolutionary hegemeony within Venezuela, but most people on the island believe that Chavez has a greater chance of recovery from this current illness than of dying.
The reason for this is twofold: Firstly, the Cuban media has been clear from the start that Chavez's operation on the cancer was satisfactory and that the immediate danger to his health is not from that. The threat to his life at present is a respiratory infection that he picked up in the hospital. But this, according to Cuban doctors is treatable.
The second reason is that Cubans, because of the national emphasis on health care and from now having two generations benefitting from a doctor and two nurses living in their neighbourhood, are very knowledgeable about health issues. Although the exact nature of Chávez's problems has not been announced, Cubans have discussed the possibilities with the health professionals they know. Their confidence in a recovery is based upon an informed understanding of what the most likely outcome will be. In an island where constraints on information are traditional and well-understood, the fact that the official media has not been explicit about the Venezuelan leader's condition does not cause anxiety.
As is often the case, while the rest of the world struts and frets about the island, those on the island are calm and unperturbed. If the Cubans are right, then there are going to be a lot of red and sad faces around when the Venezuelan leader makes a 'second coming'.