Thousands march in show of support for Chavez

A march by Venezuelans to mark the country`s bicentennial turned into a show of support for Chavez.

Caracas: A march by thousands of Venezuelans to mark the country`s bicentennial quickly turned into a show of support on Sunday for ailing President Hugo Chavez, who remained in Cuba recovering from the removal of a cancerous tumour.

The President`s red-clad supporters waved flags, beat drums and chanted "Long live Chavez!". They also displayed signs reading "Get well soon, commander" and "Venezuela is with you”.

A message on Chavez`s Twitter account said he was doing his "daily exercises and receiving that bath of love" from the demonstrators in Caracas.

"It`s the best medicine!" he said in the message.

Chavez`s Twitter account posted four messages within three hours on Sunday, including one referring to the "Bolivarian youth" marching on the streets: "I see you, I hear you."

Vice President Elias Jaua addressed the crowd, shouting: "We will be victorious, commander!"

Venezuelan state television showed new video footage on Sunday of Chavez chatting with his foreign minister and taking a stroll hand-in-hand with two of his daughters, Rosa and Maria. The 56-year-old wore a sports jersey with his name on the back, holding his daughters` hands as they walked along a concrete path through a garden fringed with palm trees.

Chavez has lost weight following his surgeries and appeared thin, though energetic and animated as he reminisced with Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro.

In the video, Chavez described how as a boy he would pretend he was 19th-century independence-era hero Simon Bolivar while playing with his friends. He asked Maduro to retrieve two long, dried seed pods of the flamboyant tree, gripped one in his hand and showed how he would pretend to sword fight with such pods.

"We played Bolivar," he said, smiling.

State television said the video was recorded on Friday. Photographs of the encounter were also published by Venezuela`s state news agency and the state-run Cuban news media.

"President Chavez, fulfilling the recovery plan he has in our country, walked for about 10 minutes with his family, Foreign Minister Maduro and part of his medical team. He got some sun and exercised," newspaper Juventud Rebelde said in a brief article.

More video appeared on state television on Sunday night. The footage, which was identified as being filmed on Saturday, showed Chavez sitting at a table in a grassy field with his two daughters, holding court on subjects ranging from the classic German philosophical text "Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, which he held in front of him, to the hospitality of his host, Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

"We feel a dawn in Latin America from Havana to Buenos Aires to the Caribbean. It`s the territory of the dawn, of hope, a new world," Chavez said in the clip, which ran for about 20 minutes.

He also mentioned the upcoming 200th anniversary of Venezuela`s declaration of independence from Spain, saying: "Happy birthday, Venezuela”. Sunday`s march was organised as part of the country`s weeklong bicentennial celebrations. A military parade is planned on Tuesday`s anniversary.

Maduro said during an interview televised on Saturday that Venezuelan and Cuban doctors conducted tests showing the President`s vital organs are healthy.

"They were able to completely remove the tumour," Maduro said. "They examined all of his organs and they are in perfect condition."

The state-run Venezuelan News Agency, or AVN, quoted Maduro as saying Chavez "is in a new phase of recuperation, doing his exercises”.

At Sunday`s march, the mood was energetic and festive as thousands waved their hands in the air, yet also tempered by concerns for the future due to Chavez`s announcement that the tumour was removed.

"I felt very bad, with a big emptiness inside for what could happen in the country," said Carlos Rojas, a 48-year-old Chavez supporter and lawyer. "I`m praying for him to be better soon."

Chavez arrived in Cuba on June 08 for what ostensibly was a previously scheduled visit. He has said he underwent an initial surgery on June 11 to have a pelvic abscess removed. Maduro said a subsequent surgery removed a cancerous "abscessed tumour" from the president`s pelvic region.

After 18 days out of sight, Chavez announced on Thursday that he had the second surgery to remove the tumour. He didn`t give details about what kind of cancer he had nor say how soon he might return home.

Chavez opponents have accused the government of not providing enough information about the President`s condition.

But Jaua was quoted by the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal on Sunday as saying that officials had been informing the public properly as the situation evolved. He said that once the tumour was discovered, "We respected the right of the President to be the one to tell the country."

"There is no law ... that obliges the human being Hugo Chavez to give details about the characteristics of the condition he has," Jaua told the newspaper. "The country knows what it has to know. It knows that he is undergoing treatment and that the best conditions possible have been provided for him to recover."

Chavez`s illness has also raised questions about whether he will be fit to run for re-election in 2012.

"Of course he will, and he`s going to be (elected) President once again in 2012," Jaua was quoted as saying.

Some analysts have predicted that infighting might break out among the second-tier leaders of Chavez`s socialist-inspired Bolivarian Revolution movement if he remains in Cuba for an extended period. But Jaua insisted the movement is completely united.

"In these past three weeks, I`ve had the support ... of all the leaders of PSUV (Chavez`s socialist party), of the Cabinet, of our counterparts in the military high command," Jaua said in the interview.

Steve Ellner, a political science professor at Venezuela`s University of the East, said he believes Chavez can hold his movement together while in Cuba.

"The Chavista movement has always had internal currents, a situation which is typical of most political movements," Ellner said. "But I do not believe that these internal differences will deepen or threaten the movement`s unity as long as Chavez is able to play an active role."

Chavez`s opponents have urged him to temporarily cede his duties to the vice president while recovering. Maduro called those "stupid requests”.

"What we ask of the opposition is that they respect the president`s health and respect the people of Venezuela," the foreign minister said as the march concluded with speeches by Chavez allies.

"The President is going to recover soon, and we`re here for him," said Andy Barrios, a 32-year-old woman who works in a government-run adult education program. "Our President is everything for us. ... He has given us 12 years of revolution, 12 years of his life."

Many in the crowd said they think Chavez has been through the worst of his ailment, and that they have no qualms with him staying in Cuba as long as necessary.

"We should stay unified now more than ever," said Estefany Flores, 34, who joined the crowd wearing the typical red T-shirt of a government education program.

Bureau Report

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