CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro has begun rallying supporters so often on television that opponents are suggesting he is campaigning for support while ailing President Hugo Chavez remains out of sight in Cuba.
Maduro visited an outdoor government-run market on Saturday, promoting vegetables, cooking oil and other foods at cheap, subsidized prices. In other appearances this past week, he presented new public housing and inaugurated a school.
"Maduro campaigning, be prepared!" opposition leader Henrique Capriles said in a message on his Twitter account Friday night. Other opposition politicians have questioned Maduro's higher profile, saying it suggests an effort to make him a more familiar voice for Venezuelans and promote him as an eventual presidential candidate.
Before his latest cancer surgery, Chavez said that if his illness cuts short his presidency, Maduro should run in a new election to take his place. Chavez has not spoken publicly or been seen in more than five weeks since his Dec. 11 operation for an unspecified type of pelvic cancer.
Maduro, however, expressed confidence on Saturday that Chavez will return home.
"Little by little. God and his doctors are doing their work, and we'll have him here," Maduro said, wearing a track suit as he spoke on television at the market in the city of Valencia. "We'll have him with the people, in command, always in command."
The government has been trying to fight 20 percent inflation, and some Venezuelans have also been complaining about shortages of foods such as chicken, cooking oil and sugar, while the government has maintained its longstanding price controls on many foods.
Maduro said the government-run market and others like it across the country should "keep reaching Venezuelans more and more, to guarantee people food like never before."
"We aren't going to permit anyone to sabotage the food of our children, of our homeland. It's Chavez's order," Maduro said, reiterating government accusations that unscrupulous businesspeople have been hoarding products to drive up prices.
The vice president kept up Chavez's criticisms of the leading business chamber Fedecamaras, which has blamed the government's economic policies for exacerbating sporadic shortages and other problems.
"It's proposing the liberation of prices," Maduro said during his visit to the market. "Go far away, Fedecamaras! There is a government here that is going to keep hunting down hoarding."
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