Venezuela's sick Chavez misses own inauguration bash

Thu Jan 10, 2013 4:52pm EST
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By Daniel Wallis and Brian Ellsworth

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez remained on his sickbed in Cuba on Thursday 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 Nicolas 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 Chavez 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 December 11.

"Only God knows what will happen," William Medina, a 49-year-old worker, told Reuters amid crowds of red-clad supporters milling around the presidential palace, many waving banners and posters bearing their hero's face.

"But we are ready to take on what he taught us, because each one of us is a Chavez. We are ready to continue with socialism, because that is the only way to save planet Earth."

Venezuela's 29 million people are anxiously watching what could be the last chapter in the extraordinary life of Chavez, 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 Chavez's subsidized oil and other largesse.   Continued...

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez attend a rally outside Miraflores Palace in Caracas January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins