Caracas, Venezuela: Hundreds of government opponents demonstrated on Saturday to demand answers about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s condition while he remains out of sight in a hospital, undergoing treatment more than 10 weeks after his latest cancer surgery.
The protesters also condemned the government’s most recent economic measures, which have included a devaluation of Venezuela’s currency, the bolivar. Some held signs with a photo of Vice-President Nicolas Maduro and a slogan saying the devaluation will mean “more inflation.”
Opposition leaders, though, mainly criticised the secrecy surrounding Chavez’s diagnosis and treatment, saying many Venezuelans want the government to be more forthcoming about the president’s condition.
“We came to say that this nation demands the truth,” Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma said at the demonstration.
“Yesterday they were saying they had a five-hour meeting with the president. Nobody believes that. Just two days earlier they excused themselves with President Evo Morales [of Bolivia], saying the president was resting due to his delicate state of health, and they didn’t let him see him,” Ledezma added.
Maduro said on Friday night that he and other officials visited for about five hours with the president at the military hospital in Caracas where he is being treated.
Chavez hasn’t spoken publicly since before his December 11 surgery, and has been seen only in several photographs released by the government.
Maduro said on television on Saturday that Chavez remains in charge.
“There is only one commander in chief here. There is only one president,” he said.
“Sooner rather than later, we will have our commander Chavez there, continuing in... command of the Bolivarian Revolution,” Maduro said, referring to the socialist movement the president has led during more than 14 years in office.
He said that although Chavez is breathing through a tracheal tube, which hinders speech, that doesn’t prevent him from communicating with his aides in other ways and “giving us orders in writing.”
The government has not given details about the treatment Chavez is undergoing, and hasn’t identified the type or exact location of the tumours that have been removed from his pelvic region.
Maduro said Chavez has been considering policy decisions together with other government officials, including “economic actions” that he said would be detailed in the coming days.
The vice-president said the government is confronting “the bourgeoisie’s economic war” amid double-digit inflation and a currency that has continued to weaken in black market trading against the US dollar. He criticised what he called an “attack on the currency,” but didn’t give details about the economic measures the government plans.