Venezuela’s government and opposition staged rival demonstrations yesterday, each seeking to lay claim to the country’s democratic mantle as cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez convalesces in Cuba.
Both sides claim to be marking a key anniversary — Jan. 23, 1958, the day then-Venezuelan military dictator and president Marco Perez Jimenez was overthrown — but from very different perspectives.
This year, the opposition has seized on the date to protest the way the government has handled Chavez’s prolonged absence and uncertain condition after his fourth round of cancer surgery in Havana on Dec. 11 last year.
The Venezuelan leader was too sick to attend his scheduled inauguration on Jan. 10, forcing the government to indefinitely delay his inauguration under an interpretation of the constitution vehemently criticized by the opposition.
The Chavez-controlled National Assembly and Supreme Court both approved the arrangement, which keeps his administration in place under Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro until Chavez can be sworn in.
Chavez has not been seen in public since Dec. 10 and official information about his health has been sketchy.
In a sign that he may be improving, Maduro predicted on Sunday that the president would return home soon and Bolivian President Evo Morales said Chavez was undergoing physical therapy in preparation.
“I communicated with Cuba and, brothers and sisters, we have good news about our brother, President Hugo Chavez. He is already undergoing physical therapy to return to his country,” Morales said in a speech to parliament in La Paz.
However, the dueling shows of force still went ahead yesterday, with the pro-Chavez camp planning to march from three points in the center and west of Caracas.
The main opposition umbrella group has decided to gather in a park in the east of the capital to avoid clashes.
Jan. 23 is a date that has long been uncomfortable for Chavez, who has railed against the bipartisan democracy that came to power in Venezuela after the 1959 coup, branding it as corrupt and blaming it for glaring income inequalities.