Venezuelans on edge amid shifting news on Chavez

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 1, 2013 at 9:51 pm •  Published: January 1, 2013
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Even some of his supporters said on Tuesday that they wished they knew more.

"We're distressed by El Comandante's health," said Francisca Fuentes, who was walking through a downtown square with her grandchildren. "I think they aren't telling us the whole truth. It's time for them to speak clearly. It's like when you have a sick relative and the doctor lies to you every once in a while."

Chavez has been fighting an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer since June 2011. He has declined to reveal the precise location of the tumors that have been surgically removed. The president announced on Dec. 8, two month after winning re-election, that his cancer had come back despite previous surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

"There's nothing we can do except wait for the government to deign to say how he is really," said Daniel Jimenez, an opposition supporter who was in a square in an affluent Caracas neighborhood.

Jimenez and many other Venezuelans say it seems increasingly unlikely that Chavez can be sworn in as scheduled Jan. 10 for his new term.

Venezuelans rang in 2013 as usual with fireworks raining down all over the capital of Caracas. But some of Chavez's supporters had long faces as they gathered in Bolivar Plaza on Monday night holding pictures of the president. A government-sponsored New Year's Eve celebration there had been called off, and instead his supporters strummed guitars and read poetry in Chavez's honor.

Maduro didn't discuss the upcoming inauguration plans, saying only that he's hopeful Chavez will improve.

Chavez has been in office since 1999 and was re-elected in October, three months after he announced that his latest tests showed him to be cancer-free. If he dies or is unable to continue in office, the Venezuelan Constitution says a new election should be held within 30 days.

Before his operation, Chavez acknowledged he faced risks and designated Maduro as his successor, telling supporters they should vote for the vice president if a new presidential election was necessary.

The vice president said that Chavez "has faced an illness with courage and dignity, and he's there fighting, fighting."

"Someone asked me yesterday by text message: How is the president? And I said, 'With giant strength,'" Maduro said. He recalled taking Chavez by the hand, saying "he squeezed me with gigantic strength as we talked."

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Associated Press writers Christopher Toothaker contributed to this report.

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Ian James on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ianjamesap