CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's vice president stepped into the shoes of ailing President Hugo Chavez in a flurry of public events Friday, working to maintain an image of government continuity after more than five weeks of unprecedented silence from the normally garrulous president.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro and other Cabinet ministers have striven to assure a nervous public that Chavez's administration is firmly in charge even as the opposition challenges its legitimacy. Chavez has been out of sight in Cuba since undergoing cancer surgery on Dec. 11.
Among three televised events held nationwide on Friday, Maduro helped opened a school in Chavez's home state of Barinas alongside the president's elder brother, Adan, who is the state's governor.
"We're all Chavez. We have to feel that way," Maduro said during the school visit. "We all love Chavez from our hearts."
The vice president, whom Chavez designated last month as his chosen successor, also visited an agricultural training center in Lara state, where he insisted on the importance of "socialist efficiency." He then spoke to National Guard troops in western Zulia state, blaming materialistic values for exacerbating crime. A day earlier on Thursday, Maduro presided over the inauguration of a housing project in Caracas.
Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez gave an update on the government's efforts to build new public housing for the poor, saying more than 400,000 homes are currently under construction nationwide.
"All the programs of the revolution continue and will continue," Ramirez told reporters Friday. "The revolutionary government hasn't stopped, not one minute."