Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday presided at a tribute to his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez, on the first anniversary of his death, an event attended by Cuba's Raul Castro, Bolivian leader Evo Morales and Suriname head of state Desi Bouterse.
"Today, March 5, one year since our chief flew to his eternal life, in the first place I want ... to greet the brothers of the world, brothers and sisters who are here," said Maduro, hailing the presence of his counterparts as well as that of Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño.
Maduro offered a speech on the Los Proceres military promenade in western Caracas, at which he emphasized that "Chavez is the Redeeming Christ of the peoples of the south" and declared that mechanisms of integration such as the Union of South American Nations are in existence thanks to the "genius" of the late president.
In his address, which was broadcast live on all local radio and television stations, Maduro said that the foreign delegations had been able to "verify" that the situation in Venezuela is normal and that the people are "clearing the road of violence and violent people."
He also emphasized that Chavez was the "manager, the creator of the new (anti-imperialist and) deeply Chavista armed forces" which is breaking out of the "ancient concept of the armies of occupation."
The Venezuelan leader, who was brought to the main stage riding in a convertible along with his wife, Cilia Flores, called Wednesday's ceremony a "monumental and historic event" whereby the people are remembering the great "defender" of the poor of Venezuela and in the hemisphere.
The leftist government plans 10 days of events to pay tribute to Chavez, who governed the country from 1999 until his death from cancer.
The commemoration ceremony was held amid an environment of anti-government protests that have been besetting the country for three weeks and which in some cases have turned violent, resulting in 19 deaths, more than 250 people injured and hundreds of arrests. EFE