“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.”