Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro was on his way back to Cuba today to visit ailing President Hugo Chavez, a day after Chavez was not present for his inauguration in Caracas because of his slow recovery from a cancer operation.
Thousands of Chavez loyalists thronged the streets of Caracas yesterday and acted as red-shirted stand-ins for their leader in a simulation of a swearing-in, listening to fiery anti-Western speeches from the leaders of other Latin American countries Bolivia and Uruguay, but there was still a sense of uncertainty and worry in the air as the nation is unsure of Chavez’s condition.
Normally Chavez never lets pass an opportunity to address his public, even when he’s not in the country. In the past he has spoken from abroad in broadcast phone conversations. So it is odd for the people to not have heard anything from him in weeks, leading many in the Chavez opposition to speculate that he may not even be alive.
But if he is not alive, the leaders of other nations would have to be in on the deception. Argentine President Cristina Kirchner traveled to Havana today to visit Chavez and offer her support, saying she had brought a Bible for him. Kirchner said she would meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and his older brother, Fidel. She planned to meet with Chavez’s family members.
“This is not a visit for making comments or giving interviews but simply of solidarity and fellowship with someone who is a friend,” Kirchner said.
Chavez got significant help this week from the Venezuelan Supreme Court, which ruled that the 58-year-old could indefinitely postpone his swearing-in until he gets well.
During a visit to the large state oil company, PDVSA, Vice President Maduro said he would be “visiting the family, meeting with the medical team, visiting our comandante Chavez and presenting him with the good news of a nation at work.”
Maduro addressed the masses on Thursday by leading them in an oath of “absolute loyalty to the leadership of Comandante Hugo Chavez.”
“I swear by the Bolivarian constitution that I will defend the presidency of Comandante Chavez in the street with reason, with truth and with the strength and intelligence of a people who have been liberated from the yoke of the bourgeoisie,” Maduro said.
Holding tiny copies of the constitution in the air, the crowd repeated Maduro’s words.