Venezuela

In Venezuela, Chávez’s six-year term starts without Chávez

 

Venezuela held a massive rally to mark the beginning of President Hugo Chávez’s new six year term. But the ailing leader, who’s recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba, was absent.

jwyss@miamiherald.com

Waving blue constitutions and red banners, tens of thousands of supporters of President Hugo Chávez crammed the streets of downtown Caracas amid growing questions about when, if ever, the ailing leader will return from Cuba.

The event, marking the beginning of a new six-year term for the cancer-stricken Comandente, fell on the one-month anniversary since the public last saw or heard from him. His absence has fueled accusations that the administration is trampling the constitution by not transferring power to the head of the National Assembly until Chávez returns.

But amid the surging crowds on the street, many said it was the opposition that’s twisting the law to try to sideline a president they’ve never been able to defeat at the polls.

“Those people [the opposition] are trying to make up their own rules,” said José Torres Alba, a 32-year-old baker who traveled 12 hours to be at the event. “We’re here to show them that the nation is behind Chávez and that we’ll defend the constitution.”

As military jets roared overhead, supporters sang and danced in the streets carrying banners that read “I am Chávez.” Aside from a months-old recording of Chávez singing the national anthem, the crowd didn’t hear from their president.

The rally came the day after the Supreme Court ruled that the 58-year-old leader has the right to stay out of the country “indefinitely” and can be sworn-in before the court whenever he recovers. It also said he was still in charge of the nation and there was no need to send a medical team to evaluate his health, as opponents had requested. That leaves Vice President Nicolás Maduro — whom Chávez appointed in October — as the de-facto leader of the nation.

On Thursday, Maduro downplayed his role, saying Chávez was the only president and that he and the rest of the cabinet were “simple men and women of the people who are here to accompany him and work for him.”

“We will do what we need to, but always subordinate to him,” he said.

In a news conference on the other side of town, a bloc of opposition deputies said it was a sham to pretend that Chávez is still in charge when he’s been incommunicado since Dec. 10, and didn’t even sign the letter informing congress he would not be able to attend the inauguration.

The government has provided almost daily updates on the president’s health, and Maduro says he has talked to the president at length, but there’s no independent way to verify his status, said opposition deputy Alfonso Marquina.

“If the president has talked to Vice President Nicolás Maduro for more than 20 minutes, why hasn’t [Chávez] had the decency to talk to Venezuelans, even for just a minute, over the telephone?” he asked.

The opposition is calling for a march Jan. 23 to protest what they see as a usurpation of power.

On Thursday, Maduro didn’t provide any new details about Chavez’s condition.

“As you know, he’s in the midst of a battle,” Maduro told the crowd. “But Commander, relax, you have a Bolivarian government and a revolutionary nation behind you, and the National Armed Forces are solid.”

Maduro also tried to put to rest rumors that he and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello are fighting for control.

“They say Diosdado and I are killing each other,” he said as he hugged his colleague. “But we’re killing ourselves for the people and we’re killing ourselves for Chávez.”

Opposition leaders said they had asked foreign dignitaries not to participate in Thursday’s event, but almost 20 international delegations were in attendance, including the presidents of Nicaragua, Uruguay and Bolivia.

At times, the rally seemed more like a campaign than an act of international diplomacy. Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega compared Venezuela’s opposition to “vultures” waiting for Chávez to die.

“They haven’t realized that they are the only carcass that exists,” Ortega said. “Here, the people are more alive than ever, more belligerent than ever and more combative than ever.”

Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, called Chávez “a light which illuminates the world, especially for the working people, the poor, the marginalized and those who suffer discrimination.”

When he called on the masses to obey Chávez’s orders and follow Maduro, the crowd broke out into chants of “Nicolás! Nicolás!”

Chávez won a fourth presidential term in October, beating Miranda Gov. Henrique Capriles by 11 points. Two months later, he announced that he had a relapse of the undisclosed form of cancer he has been battling since 2011, and would return to Cuba for a fourth round of surgery.

The government has said he suffered hemorrhaging during the six-hour operation and that he has been fighting a “severe” pulmonary infection since. If he were to die or step down, the constitution requires elections within 30 days.

Before leaving, Chávez asked the nation to rally behind Maduro if new elections are triggered.

But on Thursday, few Chavistas seemed willing to contemplate that scenario.

“We’re here to support the health of the president and ask for his recovery,” said Alcira Gonzalez, 49, who traveled from Maracaibo to the rally. “If, God forbid, the president can’t come back then we’ll have to support Maduro because Chávez asked us to.”

Read more Top Stories stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
System designer Andy Dobrowolski looks on as the 200,000-gallon tank (actually two connected tanks) at Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters in Marathon is filled.

    Going with the flow: Water trickles into new Florida Keys aquarium

    Watching water trickle slowly into an empty 200,000-gallon fish tank isn't that far off from watching grass grow or paint dry.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">FAMILY BONDS:</span> The De Soto family, Dan, Marilyn and son Matthew, 13, help fill Easter baskets at St. Louis Catholic Church in Pinecrest, on Palm Sunday.  Volunteers from the church filled and delivered 1,800 baskets containing candy and snacks for children and toiletries and personal items for seniors. The church works with charities, hospitals and other churches.

    Easter Sunday

    South Florida faithful approach Easter as a time for service

    In the weeks leading up to Easter, church members have gone into overdrive, making goodie bags for the homeless, filling Easter baskets and distributing food to help those in need.

  •  
Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, left, and center Chris Bosh watch from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Wednesday, April 16, 2014 in Miami. The 76ers defeated the Heat 100-87.

    IN MY OPINION

    Greg Cote: Dynasty or dismantling for the Miami Heat?

    A Heat playoff run is the annual gift we slowly unwrap together, our two-month emotional thrill ride ever since LeBron James grandly announced he was “taking my talents to South Beach” that summer night in 2010. Well, buckle up again, South Florida. Prepare for exhilarating highs and work-productivity lows. Prepare for late nights walking drained from the downtown bayside arena. Prepare for hearts to soar or plunge on whether a basketball swishes through a nylon net or bonks off a painted rim.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category