Hundreds of Venezuelans have lit candles, cried and prayed for Hugo Chavez’s health at hillside park near the presidential palace, as the president continues to receive treatment in a military hospital.
Since returning from his fourth operation in Cuba on Monday with minimal fanfare, Chavez’s supporters have taken to the streets to welcome him home and wish him good health.
On Friday at the vigil, they sang along to a recording of a healthy Chavez belting out the national anthem.
“We’re praying for the president, for him to get through all of this,” said Ana Perez, a seamstress.
“There is no other president like this one. He’s unique. He’s going to come out of all of this, and he’s going to get better.”
A group of indigenous people wearing colourful dresses, beads and feathers danced around a bonfire at the base of a wide stairway at the park.
One man blew on a conch shell, while others shook maracas as they danced around the flames.
Chavez, 58, has not been seen in public since he returned to Venezuela from Cuba, where for 10 weeks he was recovering and fighting complications following his latest operation.
He announced his return on Twitter.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s named successor, said that he and other officials had met with the president at the military hospital.
Though breathing through a tracheal tube, Maduri said Chavez was smiling and in an energetic mood.
“He communicated with us through various written ways to give us his guidance,” Maduro said, speaking on television alongside other aides at the hospital.
Despite calls from the opposition for specific details on Chavez’s condition, and disapproval aimed at politicians who indefinitely postponed his swearing in ceremony for a new six-year term, government officials insist Chavez remains in charge and has been communicating with them about policy decisions.
Foreign Minister Elias Jaua read a lengthy letter from Chavez on Friday to a gathering of African and South American leaders in Equatorial Guinea.
In the 1,500-word letter, Chavez apologised for his absence and later denounced Western military intervention in countries such as Libya in recent years, calling for more “South-South cooperation”.
Prayer gatherings for Chavez this week have included a ceremony where indigenous shamans danced on Thursday, and which was attended by Guatemalan Rigoberta Menchu, who received the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize.
“I’m completely sure that President Hugo Chavez has received the cosmic energies,” Menchu said on Friday at a televised event where she spoke alongside Maduro.
“He has received the strength of our Mother Earth … He is going to overcome big obstacles.”
In mid-December, as Chavez received treatment in Cuba, actor Sean Penn attended a vigil in Bolivia.
“He[s one of the most important forces we’ve had on this planet,” he said.
“I’ll wish him nothing but that great strength he has shown over and over again. I do it in love, and I do it in gratitude.”