A man walks past a mural of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas yesterday.
CARACAS: Backers of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez prayed and called off New Year’s Eve festivities as the cancer-stricken leftist leader took a turn for the worse, fueling doubts about his political future.
Venezuelans prayed in church and a downtown square after the government announced that Chavez suffered “new complications” from a respiratory infection following his fourth cancer-related surgery on December 11 in Cuba.
His vice president and political heir, Nicolas Maduro, broke the news from Havana, saying the condition of the 58-year-old leader was delicate and that he faced an uphill battle. Maduro decided to stay in Cuba for “the next few hours” to check on the ubiquitous “Comandante,” the face of the Latin American left and fierce critic of the United States who has led the oil-rich nation for 14 years.
Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s science and technology minister as well as the president’s son in law, took to Twitter to try to tamp down rampant social media speculation that the end might be near, or had already come.
“My fellow countrymen: Do not believe ill-intentioned rumors. President Chavez has spent the day calmly and stable, with his children at his side,” said Arreaza who is in Cuba with other family members.
Back in Caracas, crews took down the stage of a downtown concert site while Information Minister Ernesto Villegas invited Venezuelans to gather at Plaza Bolivar to “pray with joy and optimism” for Chavez. “I deeply love him and would give my life for him. There should be millions like Chavez,” Haydee Dominguez, a 50-year-old secretary, said at the gathering led by Villegas.
Others teared up at the San Francisco church while several ministers attended a special mass for Chavez at the Miraflores presidential palace at midday. At a meeting point for Chavez followers in Plaza Bolivar, “Chavistas” choked up as they contemplated the health of their leader.
“We are all praying for the health of our comandante,” said Miriam, one of the people gathered at the square. “There can’t be any party here.”