CARACAS, Venezuela – Thousands of supporters of Venezuela's absent, cancer-stricken president held rallies across the nation on Sunday to defend Hugo Chávez's populist "revolution," with a top ally alleging that far-right factions were seeking violent instability.
The opposition says the government's indefinite postponement of Chávez's inauguration, which was to have occurred on Thursday, is unconstitutional and is demanding it lift the veil of secrecy about his medical condition.
The successor Chávez himself designated, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, and other members of Venezuela's ruling inner circle, met Saturday evening in Havana with Raul Castro, Cuba's leader, during a visit to the island nation where the Venezuelan president remains hospitalized, the nation's Juventud Rebelde newspaper reported.
Venezuelan authorities have said Chávez continues to fight a severe respiratory infection after undergoing a fourth round of surgery on Dec. 11 for a cancer in the pelvic area first diagnosed on June 8, 2011.
Chávez, who was re-elected on Oct. 7, hasn't spoken publicly or been seen since the operation, and the Cuban and Venezuelan governments have refused to offer details of his condition. If he is unable to take office, Venezuela's constitution says new elections must be called within 30 days.
Accompanying Maduro in Saturday's meeting with Raul Castro were Diosdado Cabello, president of Venezuela's National Assembly as well as Attorney General Cilia Flores and Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez. Information Minister Ernesto Villegas announced that Maduro meet with Chávez.
"Maduro reports that he gave the president a report about the demonstrations of the people's support," Villegas stated on Saturday in a message posted on the Twitter social networking site.
Cuba's official Juventud Rebelde newspaper published a photograph of a smiling Castro with Cabello and Ramirez. In another picture, Castro is seen bidding farewell Saturday to Presidents Cristina Fernandez of Argentina and Ollanta Humala of Peru.
If either met with Chávez, it was not reported.
We know that despite the position that many Venezuelans may have against the revolutionary project, nobody wants to see a fragmented Venezuela...
- Elias Jaua, Chávez confidant & former vice president
Fernandez was also shown in several photographs meeting with Fidel Castro, the former Cuban president and revolutionary icon who has been a father figure for Chávez.
The newspaper's reports did not mention Chávez.
In Caracas on Sunday, Elias Jaua, a close Chávez confidant and former vice president, urged a crowd of government supporters to "be active in defense of the constitution, in defense of Commander Hugo Chávez's popular mandate."
The opposition claims a Supreme Court ruling last week that allowed Chávez's inauguration to be postponed is unconstitutional. It says it plans to challenge the ruling before the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Opposition leaders deny they are trying to stir up violence, insisting they have been careful not to incite unrest.
Jaua nevertheless told state television that some right-wing activists are seeking violent upheaval.
"We know that despite the position that many Venezuelans may have against the revolutionary project, nobody wants to see a fragmented Venezuela, a Venezuela involved in a civil war, that's only what Venezuela's sick right-wingers want," Jaua said.
During a massive pro-Chávez rally last week, Maduro warned that authorities would take action against elected opposition leaders who question the government's legitimacy.
"If you don't recognize the legitimate government of President Chávez, we are evaluating legally very forceful actions," Maduro told tens of thousands of Chávez supporters who filled the streets of downtown Caracas.
Critics allege the government is hamstrung because of Chávez's long absence and alleged infighting among members of the ruling party, which has caused the escalation of pressing domestic problems including rampant violent crime, double-digit inflation, deteriorating infrastructure and power outages.
A power outage left several districts of Caracas without electricity on Sunday. Douglas Alvarez of the state-run power company said officials were investigating the cause of the blackout. Electricity returned to the affected areas by midday, he said.