Here is another indicator of why Hugo Chávez will be hard to beat in October's presidential election:
Venezuela, South America’s largest oil producer and a founding member of OPEC, experienced economic contractions of 3.3 percent in 2009 and 1.4 percent in 2010, before expanding 4.2 percent last year.
Of the 30 countries that have already reported first quarter growth, Venezuela’s was the fourth fastest after China, Latvia and Indonesia. The 5.6 percent expansion matched that of Kazakhstan, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Net income for Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state oil company, surged 42.4 percent last year to $4.5 billion as the average price for the country’s crude oil rose to a record $101.06 a barrel. The price averaged $112.04 in the first quarter, according to preliminary figures by the Oil Ministry.
He's ahead in every poll (though the margin varies widely according to who is reporting) and when oil money keeps rolling, it is even harder to put a dent in his solid--if not spectacular--approval ratings. Thus far his health and lengthy absences, not to mention secrecy, do not seem to be affecting the presidential race much. If he can maintain an image of recovery and a semblance of energy, those issues may never matter.