CARACAS, Saturday February 23, 2013 | Update

Military Hospital in the middle of paranoia and information void

The stay of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez is amidst rumors

Business as usual; all patients are admitted (Photo: Javier Brassesco)
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Saturday February 23, 2013  12:00 AM
Three buildings; 1,000 beds; 4,000 employees; no certainty. Inside Dr. Carlos Arvelo Military Hospital based in Caracas, the stay of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is just like outside: uncertainty, rumors, conspiracy theories... and fear.

"You'd rather leave; don't ask more questions; don't get into troubles," a doctor recommends, rather threatening than conciliatory.

Few dare talk about the issue, not with outsiders: "What are you asking for? Who are you?"

Everybody try to do their job, forgetting about metal detectors or police agents –in uniform or not, Venezuelans or not. Still, there is something both underlying and overlapping their daily routine. The million-dollar question: "Is he really Hugo Chávez? Do the two officers in beige jacket actually guard anything on the ninth floor?

Everybody have their own opinion. Monosyllables and looking askance inside turn into lectures and relaxed faces in the outside cafeteria. The code of silence does not prevail anymore beyond the hospital premises.

Most employees are positive that the president is there. A stretcher-bearer relates that Director Earle Siso told him same as told to reporters by Dubraska Mora, the lady in red who showed up on Monday, February 18 on the media as a nurse, but allegedly a public servant at the Defense Ministry: "Chávez walked in on his own."

While nobody who has seen the president could be contacted, many claim to have spoken with any other employee who did see him –or who knows somebody else who knows somebody else who saw him or his daughters, for such matter. They also uphold that such a deployment cannot be in vain: two checkpoints next to the hospital, a metal detector for bags at the gate and a scanner for people in each building; metro-buses no more allowed to enter the hospital; the presence of aides-de-camp; new bars on the eighth floor; two elevators going up to the ninth floor only.

Yes, most employees seem to believe the official version: Hugo Chávez is on the mysterious ninth floor.

Conspiracy theories

Anyhow, many employees as well are afraid that the president is not there, and they have their lines of argument to sustain their stance.

To begin with, they remember that every time Hugo Chávez is there, troops seize the whole compound, instead of a few officers at the entrance. Snipers are deployed on the roofs; visits to the doctor stop, and there is no access for the general public. None of that has occurred this time. Admissions to hospital were discontinued only on Sundays afternoon. Apart from the bags check at the entrance, resulting in long queues by 8:00 in the morning, anybody has access to the facilities.

The hospital runs smoothly, and this is also a reason to maintain that the president is not there. The first and second floors, for the general public, are flooded with patients, with medical appointments taking between one and two months. Physical deterioration is glaring. However, the military hospital is still better than any other public health care centers in Caracas.

Going up the stairs, the hospital turns into a clinic: higher stories are for the military and their relatives.

In this way, the seventh floor is for high-ranking officers; the eighth floor –the obstetrics service- is for military officers too. The obstetrics service for the general public is located on the second floor.  The presidential suite is on the ninth floor and bars were recently installed in the stairs access. Few people watch the eighth floor. On the landing of the stairs from the eight to the ninth floor a person in civilian clothes is behind a desk. Scarce guard at this level –the anteroom of the presidential suite- is another line of argument for those who discredit the official version.

So, where is he? At Tiuna Fort, Miraflores presidential palace, still in Cuba, anywhere else, but not there. So, how come the whole parapet? In order to reinforce symbolism, to endorse the remarks of Vice-President Nicolás Maduro: The president is recovering in a hospital, as any ordinary citizen –never mind if he has one floor and two elevators for him only.

In any case, these are just theories; things that people say while sipping a cup of coffee. Certainly, nothing is for certain, not even inside the hospital.

Translated by Conchita Delgado
The end of a cycle

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Brazil on March 13 to demand the ouster of embattled President Dilma Rousseff, carrying banners expressing anger at bribery scandals and economic woes. A banner read "We don't want a new Venezuela in Brazil."

fotter Estampas
fotter Estampas