Chávez reveals cancer treatment

"I neglected my health," says the Venezuelan president.

After weeks of speculation over the state of his health, Hugo Chávez has revealed that he has had surgery to remove a cancerous tumour. In his first video appearance since being hospitalised in Cuba, Chávez said doctors had removed "cancerous cells" from his body. "This [is] the new battle that life has placed before us," he said.

In an uncharacteristically short speech, he ruefully reflected, "I neglected my health and I was reluctant to have medical check ups. It was a fundamental mistake for a revolutionary."

The Venezuelan president was rushed to hospital on 10 June after suffering abdominal pain while in a meeting with Fidel Castro. He later underwent emergency pelvic surgery and, as we now know, a second operation to remove a tumour.

It's still unclear when Chávez will return to Venezuela and the news has dismayed his supporters, who were confident that he would win re-election next year. The opposition is arguing that it is unconstitutional for Chávez to govern the country from abroad. Others have criticised him for initially denying claims that he had been diagnosed with cancer.

But most importantly, as I wrote on Monday, Chávez's absence has highlighted the lack of any obvious successor to his Bolivarian Revolution. Aware of this fact, his supporters are discussing the possibility of a Castro-like succession which would see Chavez's older brother, Adán Chávez, take over the presidency. As today's New York Times notes: "no government figure has occupied the political void created by [Chávez's] absence more assertively than his older brother, Adán Chávez, a physicist whose radical thinking has often been to the left of the president's."

In the meantime, Venezuelan politics remains as polarised as ever. On Saturday, the Vice Foreign Minister, Temir Porras, said: "The only thing that has metastasized is the cancer of the Miami Herald and the rest of the right-wing media."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.