May 21, 2013
Venezuela's sick Chávez misses own inauguration bash
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez remained on his sickbed in Cuba today while thousands of supporters rallied in his honor on the day he should have been sworn in for a new six-year term in the South American OPEC nation.
The postponement of the inauguration, a first in Venezuelan history, has laid bare the gravity of Chavez's condition after complications from a fourth cancer operation in his pelvic area.
It has also left his chosen heir, Vice President Nicolás Maduro - a former bus driver who shares his boss's radical socialist views - in charge of day-to-day government until there is clarity over whether Chávez will recover.
The president, whose legendary energy and garrulous dominance of the airwaves had often made him seem omnipresent in Venezuela since taking power in 1999, has not been seen in public nor heard from since his surgery on Dec. 11.
Venezuela's 29 million people are anxiously watching what could be the last chapter in the extraordinary life of Chávez, who grew up in a rural shack and went on to become one of the world's best-known and most controversial heads of state.
The saga also has huge implications for the likes of Cuba and other leftist allies in Latin America that have benefited for years from Chávez's subsidized oil and other largesse.
A clutch of foreign friends, including the presidents of Uruguay, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, attended today's events in Caracas despite Chávez's absence.
"There's a man who is battling for his life; he is in your hearts and that's what matters," said Uruguayan President José "Pepe" Mujica from a stage outside the Miraflores palace, the scene of dramatic moments in Chávez's rule including his return from a failed 2002 coup and euphoric speeches after election victories.
Sukhoi jets, which Venezuela bought from Russia after a diplomatic dispute with Washington, rumbled above the demonstration, drawing a roar of approval from the crowd.