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Is Something Seriously Wrong With Hugo Chávez?

Venezuela's normally bombastic president has been uncharacteristically quiet as he recovers from hip surgery in Cuba. Chávez's prolonged silence is now sparking rumors that his health condition could be far worse than officials sources a


Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez rarely misses an opportunity to deliver incendiary, sometimes unconventional observations on the events happening in his country and elsewhere. Which is why his silence on events like the recent national guard raid on El Redeo, one of the country's most notorious penitentiaries, speaks volumes.

On June 17, some 5,000 Venezuelan troops were sent in to confiscate weapons and drugs at El Redeo. The raid also ignited a riot outside the facility when concerned family members of the inmates began gathering after a hostage-taking drama unfolded. What was Chávez's take on the operation? No one knows. The normally loquacious president didn't say anything.

Why the sudden silence? Recent reports suggest health problems are to blame. In early June, the 56-year-old Chávez traveled to Havana, Cuba to undergo surgery on a pelvic abscess. Since then he's been mostly incommunicado, sparking rumors that his condition could be far more serious than initially suspected.

Venezuelan government officials, including the president's brother, Adán, who serves as governor of Barinas state, have repeatedly said that Chávez is "recovering satisfactorily." But on Friday night, Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro changed tack, setting off a flurry of speculation when he said "the battle that the president is waging for his health is everyone's battle." Maduro asked Venezuelans to pray for Chávez.

On Saturday, citing unnamed U.S. intelligence sources, the El Nuevo Herald of Miami reported that the Venezuelan leader was "critically but not gravely ill" with an undisclosed illness, which the newspaper reasoned could be prostate cancer.

Even before he left for Havana, Chávez appeared in public in Caracas leaning on a cane.
Two days after his operation on June 12, Chávez spoke by phone to a Telesur journalist, insisting his operation was successful. "It was lucky that the pelvic abscess did not lead to an infection. They have done biopsies and fortunately there is no sign of malignancy," he said.

Since then, however, the Venezuelan president – with the exception of a few non health-related Twitter messages – has said nothing.

On Monday, National Assembly speaker Fernando Soto denied that Chávez was suffering from cancer, and said the Venezuelan leader would be back in the country for July 5 independence day celebrations. He will then travel to Asunción, Paraguay for a Mercosur summit, said Soto.

But that too was left in doubt when Paraguayan Foreign Minister Jorge Lara Castro told journalists that Chávez would not be attending the regional meeting because he was still recovering.

Some newspaper columnists, such as Trino Márquez of the Venezuelan daily El Universal, have begun sounding off against the government for not being up front about Chavez's health.

The National Assembly, meanwhile, took the unprecedented step of giving Chávez powers to govern the nation from Havana. In effect, Chávez is still commander-in-chief. It is not clear what that means for the unfolding El Redeo hostage-taking drama, which entered its 12th day on Tuesday. El Rodeo is located in Guatire just outside Caracas. It is currently experiencing one of the longest prison revolts in Venezuelan history, say human rights organizations.

Family members are camped out waiting to hear from the love ones who are being held. At least 19 prisoners have died, according to the government. The inmates' families and prison gang leaders say the figure is higher.

Authorities reported that they have discovered a cache of cash, weapons and drugs inside one of the penitentiary's complexes. The warden and his deputy have been arrested.

And from Havana? Still dead air.

Martin Delfín

Photo - openDemocracy

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Russia's Wartime Manipulation Of Energy Prices Could Doom Its Economy

A complex compensation mechanism for fuel companies, currency devaluation, increased demand due to the war, logistics disruptions, and stuttering production growth have combined to trigger price rises and deepening shortages in the Russian energy market.

Photograph of Novatek's gravity-based structure platform for production of liquefied natural gas, floating on a body of water.

Russia, Murmansk Region - July 21, 2023: A view of Novatek's gravity-based structure platform for production of liquefied natural gas.

Ekaterina Mereminskaya

In Russia, reports of gasoline and diesel shortages have been making headlines in the country for several months, raising concerns about energy supply. The situation escalated in September when a major diesel shortage hit annexed Crimea. Even before that, farmers in the southern regions of Russia had raised concerns regarding fuel shortages for their combines.

“We’ll have to stop the harvest! It will be a total catastrophe!” agriculture minister Dmitry Patrushev had warned at the time. “We should temporarily halt the export of petroleum products now until we have stabilized the situation on the domestic market.”

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As the crisis deepens, experts are highlighting the unintended consequences of government intervention in fuel pricing and distribution.

The Russian government has long sought to control the prices of essential commodities, including gasoline and diesel. These commodities are considered "signalling products", according to Sergei Vakulenko, an oil and gas expert and fellow at the Carnegie Endowment. Entrepreneurs often interpret rising gasoline prices as a signal to adjust their pricing strategies, reasoning that if even gasoline, a staple, is becoming more expensive, they too should raise their prices.

The specter of the 2018 fuel crisis, where gasoline prices in Russia surged at twice the rate of other commodities, haunts the authorities. As a result, they implemented a mechanism to control these prices and ensure a steady supply. Known as the "fuel damper," this mechanism seeks to balance the profitability of selling fuel in both domestic and foreign markets.

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