Chavez to troops: Thanks for ‘loyalty’
CARACAS (AFP) – Lying in a Havana hospital bed as he recovers from cancer surgery, President Hugo Chavez thanked Venezuela’s military for their loyalty and love, the vice president said Wednesday.
“He told us to pass on to the armed forces, from the bottom of his heart, all of his gratitude for so much loyalty from you toward the commander, a humble soldier,” said Maduro, who saw Chavez over the weekend in Havana.
“Thanks to everyone for so much loyalty and so much love,” Maduro said, quoting a message from Chavez delivered to the Venezuelan leader’s son-in-law and Science Minister Jorge Arreaza, who is with him in Cuba.
Chavez, a 58-year-old former paratrooper who came to power in 1999, underwent a fourth cancer operation on December 11 in Havana and remains there recovering. His latest complication is a pulmonary infection.
He has not been seen in public since before he left Caracas. But before he left, he warned the armed forces to be on the lookout for any attempt, “from outside or from within,” to destabilize the country, which has the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
At Wednesday’s ceremony at a military academy, Defence Minister Diego Molero said the armed forces remain faithful to Chavez, “now more than ever.”
And they will respect a Supreme Court ruling upholding a parliamentary vote last week that indefinitely postponed Chavez’s inauguration to a new six-year term following his re-election win back in October.
The swearing-in was to have been held January 10. Instead, the government held a pro-Chavez rally, and countries including Bolivia, Uruguay and Ecuador sent representatives.
Chavez’s absence and uncharacteristic silence – the garrulous, larger-than-life character has been a longtime fixture on TV and radio – has unsettled many Venezuelans. Some in the opposition complain that the country is in effect, and illegally, being ruled from Cuba and with Cuban influence.
No gesture goes unnoticed as a nation so thoroughly dominated by the populist comandante ponders an uncertain future without him.
Earlier Wednesday the opposition seized on just a few words – Chavez’s stamped signature on a decree – to demand he clarify how sick he is and what he can and cannot do.