Supporters of ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez marched in Caracas on Monday marking the day 21 years ago that their leader, then a young paratrooper officer, launched a failed military coup.
The crowds, dressed in red t-shirts and berets - the ruling party's colour - chanted pro-Chavez slogans and sang pro-government songs as their leader recovers from a fourth round of cancer surgery in Cuba.
Many waved pendants marked “4-F” - a reference to the February 4, 1992 failed military uprising against then-president Carlos Andres Perez.
Chavez surrendered and was sent to prison, but was pardoned two years later and elected president in 1999. Now a prolonged bout with cancer has raised uncertainty about his condition and political future.
“Today we celebrate 4-F, the day that our president came out to fight for us,” said Odalys Gonzalez, 41, a government worker from the working class neighbourhood of Caricuao.
The Venezuelan president, an anti-US firebrand whose presence on the airways has been ubiquitous, has not been seen since he arrived in Cuba on December 10 for the surgery.
Chavez was too sick to attend his own inauguration to a new six-year term on January 10, which prompted the government to indefinitely postpone his swearing in while extending him and his current administration in office.
Vice-President Nicolas Maduro read a letter said to be from Chavez to a crowd gathered near the Miraflores presidential palace in which the president lamented his absence from the commemorations.
“Nevertheless my spirit and my heart are with you on this day of national dignity,” Maduro read from the seven-page letter. When he finished, he raised the document high to show Chavez's signature.
National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello, an ex-military officer who joined Chavez in the attempted coup, marked the anniversary by assuring that the cancer-stricken president is “improving every day.”
Cabello, who returned Sunday from a visit with Chavez, warned in a speech to a military audience that any attempt to “cross the lines and instructions of commander Chavez will be paid back by the people.”
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles was not impressed by the glorification of an attempted coup. “4 February, nothing to celebrate, a lot to remember and a lot to change in our country,” he wrote in a Twitter message.
In Havana, Cuban leader Fidel Castro said Sunday that the 58-year-old Chavez was doing “much better.”
“It has been a tough struggle but he has been improving,” Castro said in comments carried by the official Granma newspaper, adding: “We have to cure him. Chavez is very important for his country and for Latin America.” - Sapa-AFP