“Because he knows he could die here!” said Alfonzo Linares, a security guard in Caracas’ Bello Monte neighborhood. “What goes around comes around. He governed badly, giving away our riches to other countries. You can die in a hospital here. The health system is useless, so he had to run to Cuba.”

To many experts, Chávez’s decision to stay behind in Havana to be treated for an unspecified cancer is a tacit admission that his efforts to rebuild the Venezuelan public health care system failed. Staying in Cuba and praising its medical care is at the same time a reaffirmation of his choice to create a parallel health system staffed with Cuban doctors, and a recognition that when it came to his own illness, Chávez had nowhere else to turn, experts say.

For Venezuelan doctors, it underscores what the Caracas medical establishment has said for years: the country’s public health system is in shambles, and the Cuban clinics Chávez built have not fared much better.