Cuban president backs Venezuela as Chavez convalesces
Cuban President Raul Castro on Saturday voiced his support for the Venezuelan government, as its cancer-stricken leader Hugo Chavez convalesces in Havana, with no sign of when or if he might return home.
Castro made the comments during a meeting with Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who arrived in the Cuban capital late Friday to check on his ailing boss, who had a difficult fourth round of cancer surgery last month.
Chavez, 58, has not been seen for a month, and his scheduled inauguration on Thursday was transformed into a public rally, with thousands of Chavistas joining regional leaders in a show of support for the fiery leftist president.
Castro “expressed his confidence in the ability of the Venezuelan people and their institutions to address and overcome any challenge,” a government statement said.
“Raul and Maduro shared their mutual satisfaction with the emotional demonstration of support for Venezuela and President Chavez on January 10 in Caracas,” it added.
Maduro, who was handpicked by Chavez as his political heir before the surgery, was to attend a mass at 5:00 pm (2200 GMT) at the cathedral in Havana, at which prayers would be offered for the Venezuelan president’s health.
The uncertainty surrounding Chavez’s condition has rattled Venezuela, the nation with the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
The government was forced to postpone the president’s scheduled inauguration Thursday, as it became clear that he could not attend. Authorities insist the country’s constitution allows Chavez to take the oath of office later on.
But the opposition has cried foul, calling for a medical board to review the absent leader’s health — a demand rejected by the Supreme Court, which said the delayed swearing-in was constitutional.
Chavez has been out of public sight since undergoing surgery on December 11, the fourth operation in the 18 months since his condition was made public.
“I will continue this work of 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, 50, said Friday before heading to Havana.
Two Chavez allies, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, also arrived in Havana on Friday.
“We all hope for a quick recovery,” Humala said.
Throughout his illness, first detected in June 2011, Chavez — in power for 14 years — has refused to relinquish the powers of the presidency, even when leaving for Cuba for his latest surgery.
The Venezuelan constitution says new elections must be held within 30 days if the president-elect or president dies or is permanently incapacitated, either before he takes office or in the first four years of his six-year term.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]