Chavez hails Venezuela's 200th 'birthday'

Parade marks two centuries since independence but Chavez, recovering from cancer surgery, limited to televised address.

    Venezuelans are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the country's independence from Spain with the country's president, Hugo Chavez, back in Venezuela after undergoing treatment for cancer in Cuba.

    Chavez, who returned from Havana early on Monday morning and addressed supporters from the balcony of the presidential palace later in the day, did not participate in Tuesday's military parade in Caracas, the capital, instead addressing troops on state television.

    "Here I am, in recuperation but still recovering. We've begun another long march," Chavez said.

    State broadcaster VTV showed Chavez greeting several foreign ministers and representatives from some 17 Latin American nations as the day's events got under way.

    Thousands of troops marched beneath thundering fighter jets and helicopters while an announcer's booming voice declared that the nation is "free, socialist, independent".

    Fireworks burst over the capital Caracas from midnight on, ushering in a day of street parties across the nation.

    Chavez also sent out a message to his followers on Twitter, saying: "Oh, Venezuela, happy birthday my dear homeland! Happiness today and forever, my brothers! Viva Venezuela!!!!"

    'Bolivarian revolution'

    The 200th anniversary is particularly important for Chavez, whose self-styled "Bolivarian revolution" is inspired by Simon Bolivar, the Caracas-born 19th-century general who liberated much of Latin America from colonial rule.

    Since 1999, the country has been officially known as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

    Francisco Dominguez from Middlesex University speaks about Chavez's performance

    Al Jazeera's Monica Villamizar, reporting from Caracas, said: "The military parade started without the Venezuelan president... people are disappointed as Chavez could not make it to the occasion."

    However, not all Venezuelans were partying. Some took to Twitter, the micro-blogging site, to vent their views under the hash-tag "#nadaquecelebrar" ("nothing to celebrate").

    "The day that men of ideas parade instead of the men of arms, that day we'll talk," read one widely retweeted message.

    Chavez draws most of his support from Venezuela's poor by spending billions of dollars in oil revenue on social programmes ranging from literacy courses to free medical clinics to housing programmes.

    Return from Cuba

    Chavez's return from Havana has enabled him to reassert political control in Caracas, but it has not dispelled concern about his political future.

    In an emotional homecoming speech to supporters from the balcony of his palace late on Monday, Chavez said he had to submit to "strict" medical treatment but would win the battle to regain his health.

    Thousands gathered opposite the Miraflores palace, cheering, waving banners and sporting the red colours of the 56-year-old socialist leader's ruling party.

    But Al Jazeera's Villamizar said that Venezuela's opposition had doubts about Chavez's recovery and his ability to run the country while undergoing further treatment.

    "The government has been very secret about his health and even now we don’t know what the treatment will be and how long will it take," she said.

    Chavez, who had been in Cuba since June 8, was rushed to hospital on June 10 for what was initially described as a "pelvic abscess".

    He revealed on Thursday that he had a cancerous growth, which was fully removed in a second operation. There had been previous speculation that he was seriously ill.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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