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Why so much secrecy around Chávez's health? Venezuela's not alone.

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He’s fine. He’s dead. He’s in a coma. He’s on life support. He’s recovering. You name it – any scenario you wish to believe has been posited. And that’s largely because no one knows. Since Chávez first announced he was ill, in 2011, no medical report has detailed exactly what he faces or what his prognosis is. The government has said that it is keeping the public informed of his health status, as the president himself wishes, but in reality their reports have raised more questions than answers, even as they accuse the opposition of spreading rumors in a form of “psychological war.”

The opposition, for their part, is outraged, demanding more specificity, that the Venezuelan people be told the “whole truth” of the status of the country’s leader.

What does secrecy tell us?

From former US presidents Ronald Reagan to Franklin Roosevelt, the states of health of leaders was carefully curated by administrations. In one oft-cited case, French President Francois Mitterrand hid his cancer diagnosis from the public for over a decade before being forced to step down. “Yet every year the doctor dutifully said he was in fine health,” says Dr. Post.

In some cases the secrecy reflects different historical social mores about privacy and the public's right to information. And in many cases it was also an effort not to minimize a leader’s mandate.

But in an age of social media, such secrecy is not tolerated – or even possible. The recent health statuses of other Latin American leaders facing illness, for example, including the presidents of Paraguay and Brazil, have been promptly released to the public.

In fact, Pedro Burelli, a former member of the executive board of Petróleos de Venezuela and today a political analyst in Washington who is critical of Chávez, says that the leader chose treatment in Cuba, where there is no free press, for the guarantee of secrecy.

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