Hugo Chavez steps up campaign after cancer fight

Hugo Chavez celebrated his 58th birthday, appearing vigorous after declaring himself free of cancer.

Updated: Jul 29, 2012, 09:37 AM IST

Caracas (Venezuela): Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez celebrated his 58th birthday at a re-election campaign rally, appearing vigorous after declaring himself free of cancer earlier this month.

Chavez rode atop a truck and waved to crowds of supporters in the Caracas slum of Petare yesterday.
He hugged and kissed two of his daughters on a stage where he sang and danced alongside a band. His supporters sang "Happy Birthday."

"I want to thank everybody for the messages I`ve been getting. ... Well, I made it to 58," Chavez told reporters, adding that Cuban President Raul Castro had called him and that he had also heard from his allies in Bolivia and Nicaragua.

Chavez said earlier this month that he is free of the cancer that forced him into months of treatments and caused speculation about whether he would be able to campaign.

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles spoke at an event east of Caracas in Guarenas, where he swore in supporters who will monitor polling stations during the October 7 vote.

He said Chavez`s government has wasted money while schools and roads remain in bad shape. Capriles noted that one Caracas hospital has been in construction for years and called it a "monument to corruption."

Capriles also pointed to blackouts, double-digit inflation and seizures of private companies that he said have cost jobs.

"He doesn`t have anything new to offer," Capriles said of the president, who has been in office since 1999 and is seeking another six-year term.

Over the past 13 months, Chavez has undergone two surgeries that removed tumors from his pelvic region, most recently in February.

The socialist leader has not disclosed key details about his illness, including the type of cancer that had been diagnosed.

Chavez has stepped up his public appearances in recent weeks, but he has led fewer rallies than Capriles, who has been campaigning energetically, sometimes jogging, in cities and towns across the country.

During the first 15 days of the campaign, which formally began on July 1, Capriles boasted of visiting 53 towns. Chavez, in contrast, made a handful of campaign visits during that period.