(Nice overlap between Chavez’ “New” bold look and the red beret on the guard behind him)
Having just finished reading the book “Leaders and their Followers in a dangerous world-The Psychology of Political Behavior” by Jerrold M. Post, I can’t help but attempt to analyze and extrapolate what I read to the recent behavior of Hugo Chavez after his recent illness.
First, the way in which the illness has been handled conforms to expectations:
“There is a premium on concealing illness, or, if this is not possible, on minimizing the perception of the severity of the impairment…this need to preserve the image of health may cause leaders to avoid comprehensive diagnostic evaluation and treatment altogether or to undergo inadequate treatment secretly”
Well, Chavez was and clearly is a textbook example of this. From the time of his “knee” ailment, to taking him to Cuba later, he avoided a comprehensive evaluation and tried to have treatment in secret, however, things got complicated. There was and there continue to be attempts to conceal the illness and its severely. Curiously, it is Chavez that seems to reveal the most about what he has, nobody else says or reveals much and when they do, like Izarra, Rangel or that famous PSUV press conference, they are usually lying. It is Chavez verbal incontinence that has told us some, but not all of the details of the illness. In fact, today, amazingly, we still don’t have a formal announcement of what the President has, other than he has cancer and we don’t even know where.
Second, how narcissistic leaders (and the book clearly defines him as one) react to a terminal illness may vary, but based on the book, it would seem from that he should be intensifying his acts, seeking the immortality through what he does, personality traits become more intense now that his life may end sooner than he thought:
“The specter of the end of his life may ignite a terminal explosion in a frantic last ditch attempt to ensure immortality”
I really don’t think we have seen this (yet?) in Chavez. He has actually been perhaps even more subdued, even removing some of the symbols of his Presidency, like changing “Patria, Socialsimo o Muerte”, saying it is not normal to wear red shirts all the time and that he does not want to have the word socialist attached to everything. Perhaps we have to wait for this to surface. But he may be misjudging what he is doing. Many of these symbols are entrenched in the population and changing signals on them is simply confusing for people accustomed to a unified discourse and signalling from Chavez and his Government. Acting hasrhly is one signature of the behavior an this may or not be a consequence of this.
What is clear from the book is that these type of leaders and narcissistic personalities tend to go into denial, refusing to accept that they will relinquish power, which may explain the surprise trips that Chavez has made every time that he has been under treatment in Cuba. Historically, when an autocrat has a severe illness, those that surround him want greater participation, but the autocrat refuses to yield. He wants control and power, he does not want to lose that. They tend to make decisions, particularly tough ones, too late or in a rush. They lose the control and premeditation that they usually exhibit in their plotting and acts.They act rashly and make mistakes, they tend to engage in a new relationship with subordinates, where they listen even less to advise.
Thus, from what I learned in the book, it is hard to reach a conclusion, but we don’t know all that is happening.
Going forward, I was struck by this sentence in the book:
“Dreams of glory are responsible for some of civilizations greatest achivements, but the intemperate reactions of aging and ailing leaders to the ebbing of their power and the frustrated dreams of their youth have been responsible for some of history’s most tragic excesses”
Let’s hope this does not apply in our case.
Next: in the reading list:”When illness Strike the Leader: The Dilemma of the Captive King” by Robins and Post.