Venezuela's "Che" prays for hero Chavez's recovery

Thu Jan 10, 2013 7:38am EST
 
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By Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS (Reuters) - A flamboyant look-a-like of Latin American revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara has for years been a familiar sight on the streets of Venezuela whipping up support for his other socialist hero, President Hugo Chavez.

Yet 54-year-old Humberto Lopez cuts a more subdued figure these days as he waits and prays for better news from Cuba where Chavez is battling to recover from cancer surgery.

"Every day after I wake up, I light a candle for him," the bearded Lopez says, puffing a cigar and adjusting a Che-style beret as he stands in front of a shrine to Chavez in his home.

"I love Chave. It's that simple. He's not just a man or leader, he's the hope of the world's poor and dispossessed, the heart of the fatherland. When the heart is bleeding, how can I be happy?"

Though viewed by many as something of a cartoon figure when parading in the streets, Lopez is a militant activist who admits participating in various acts of violence during the turbulent 14 years of Chavez's rule.

He carries a knife strapped to his ankle, shows off a bullet-wound and other injuries and reels off details of his involvement in some of the most dramatic events in Venezuela's recent past - roughing up opposition media, infiltrating protests, defending Chavez during a brief 2002 coup.

His depression over Chavez's fragile health mirrors the feelings of millions of the president's fanatical supporters among Venezuela's poor, who have seen him as a virtual messiah and struggle to contemplate an end to his rule.

His views on the future reflect those of a radical hard core who believe the 'Comandante' is simply irreplaceable.   Continued...

 
Humberto Lopez, known as "El Che", smokes a cigar at his house in Caracas January 8, 2013. A flamboyant look-a-like of Latin American revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara has for years been a familiar sight on the streets of Venezuela whipping up support for his other socialist hero, President Hugo Chavez. Yet 54-year-old Lopez cuts a more subdued figure these days as he waits and prays for better news from Cuba where Chavez is battling to recover from cancer surgery. Picture taken January 8, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins