Hugo Chavez’s medical mystery

What exactly is Hugo Chavez recovering from in Cuba? Two weeks ago, he underwent surgery for what he later described as a swelling in his pelvis. Initially, his spokesman said he would return to Venezuela in a few days. But after two weeks, there's no word when he will return, and Venezuelans are wondering if there's more to his medical problems than originally thought.

In Caracas, rumors have swirled that he may have actually been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, that he suffered an infection after botched liposuction surgery. The once-fit baseball player has been looking paunchier lately.

Chavez didn't help matters when he called in to a state TV show on June 12 -- the only communication he has had since the surgery -- and said there were no "malignant" signs found.

"His choice of words was a red flag," a former Venezuelan health official told the Wall Street Journal, since a pelvic abscess is usually caused by an injury or infection -- nothing that would prompt a search for anything "malignant."

A pelvic abscess is also something of a mysterious diagnosis since it often doesn't take this long to recover from, the official said. In fact, the official said Chavez might still have to be hospitalized even after he returns to Venezuela -- another reason to suspect something more serious is going on.

Chavez's almost total radio silence has raised the most eyebrows. When healthy, it's not uncommon for him to break into television broadcasts and sporting events to give a lengthy lecture about the news of the day. He's also an avid tweeter. His account (@Chavezcandanga) went silent on June 4th until earlier today, when he marked a public holiday celebrating a 19th-century military victory by tweeting: "Today is my army's day and the sun rose brilliantly! A huge hug to my soldiers and to my beloved people."

But why no further tweets for the past two weeks, nor an appearance on television, save for one phone interview? There is certainly plenty going on back home worthy of comment. A prison riot in Guatire, outside Caracas resulted in the deaths of 25 people, and the government was forced to bring in 5,000 soldiers to reestablish order. The country also experienced an electricity crisis that has closed thousands of businesses, schools, and hospitals due to blackouts and power rationing.

The opposition has complained about the lack of transparency surrounding Chavez's condition. One opposition newspaper editorialized this week that "incompetent Cabinet ministers are turning this into a complete mystery or a state secret that creates uncertainty and anxiety within the population."

There's a political calculus that might be at play for Chavez and his allies. With elections coming next year, he may not want to appear weak in public. And some analysts also believe the government might be preparing a triumphant homecoming -- whenever he actually makes it home.

"The vacuum now will amplify the magic of his show that Superman overcomes all adversities," wrote Venezuelan pollster Luis Vicente Leon.

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A trash uprising in Naples

Last night, the citizens of Naples took to the street and set the city alight, but not in the name of freedom, democracy, or human rights. No, they just wanted their trash taken out:

Residents of the Italian city of Naples set fire to piles of rubbish overnight in protest at the government's failure to clear a backlog of more than 2,000kg of malodorous waste from the streets.

Firefighters tackled about 55 rubbish fires, some of them in piles of waste 2m (6ft) high.

Yesterday's protests recall the embarrassing trash fiasco of 2007-2008, when residents torched the city's piles twice after local dumps filled up and communities vetoed attempts to build new ones. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi promised to fix the crisis first while campaigning for re-election to the Italian Parliament in 2008 and again in 2010, but the problem has since continued to fester, despite measures that have included multiple interventions by the Italian army. Trash collection in Naples remains controlled by the mafia, who are thought to net billions each year for their involvement.

The mayor of Naples hasn't been impressed with Berlusconi's efforts, although the analogy he used yesterday may be a teensy-bit generous to his city:

Berlusconi has shown with his actions that he doesn't give a damn about Naples. He has washed his hands of it like Pontius Pilate.

And Naples is Jesus? Bunga bunga, this is not.

STR/AFP/Getty Images