Byline: Stephen Levy, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, being treated in Cuba for a mysterious illness, is maintaining power over his country from more than a thousand miles away while speculation builds that he could be dying.
The Venezuelan foreign ministry this week insisted that Mr. Chavez is recovering from surgery for a pelvic abscess in a Havana hospital. Mr. Chavez spoke on television Tuesday in his first public appearance in two weeks.
But the postponement of a July 5 regional summit commemorating the bicentennial of the country is leading to speculation from Washington analysts about how Venezuela would fare without its polarizing leader.
Venezuela is not particularly equipped, institutionally speaking, to run without a Chavez at the helm, said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. He's the glue that holds it all together.
Mark Falcoff, a foreign-policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said that there can be no chavismo without Chavez - a reference to the cult of personality that surrounds the 58-year-old political boss.
There is simply no one in the regime who combines his audacity, his recklessness, his flair for showmanship, and his raw popular appeal to roughly 40 percent of Venezuelan society, he wrote this week in the National Review Online.
Mr. Falcoff warned that the current government could collapse into civil war if Mr. Chavez dies.
However, if he recovers and seeks a fourth term in 2012, his record as a dictator .. will be on trial in the next election said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Venezuelan people are hungry for …