On February 21, President Hugo Chavez told the Venezuelan people he will soon undergo another round of surgery. The breaking story was characteristically brief and uninformative. Chavez said doctors had detected a new lesion in the area of previous cancer surgery. He claimed the lesion is small.

Following the removal of an undisclosed malignancy in June 2011 and repeated rounds of chemotherapy, Chavez reassured his country in October that he was cancer-free. Venezuelans loyal to Chavez took comfort in the fact their president appeared healthier, re-grew lost hair, and was even able to deliver a nine-hour state of the nation speech in early January. Chavez was also sufficiently healthy to host a major conference, welcome Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and accuse the U.S. of inducing cancers in Latin leftists. Chavez insisted he was ready for another six-year term, as the October 2012 election nears.

Following the February 12 primary that selected Henrique Capriles Radonski as the single opposition candidate, Chavez launched a savage attack against his opponent, calling him a “low-life pig.” He also met with U.S. celebrity and Chavez sycophant Sean Penn. While praising Chavez, Penn railed at the U.S. Republican presidential candidates for their acts of “demonization.”

Yet professions of good health and political invincibility did not stop what appears to be the inexorable advance of Chavez’s potentially fatal disease.

Operating with customary state secrecy, Chavez flew to Havana for further medical examinations during the weekend of February 17–19.

With Venezuela’s head of state absent, rumors quickly circulated regarding his health. On February 20, Chavez’s Minister of Information denounced the report that Chavez was back in Havana for emergency treatment as part of a “dirty war by scum,” launched by the opposition ahead of the October 7 presidential election.

The news of February 21 was a fresh bombshell on an already cratered battlefield.

The chronic incapacity of Chavez and company to speak the truth or offer genuine transparency in a matter so critical to the nation’s future indicates the ongoing course of deception, trickery, and internal conspiracy that will loom ever larger in the months leading up to the October election. Under these conditions, it is important that the Obama Administration and the friends of Venezuelan democracy work to bring “a semblance of political and social order to a country that is unraveling.”