CARACAS, Jun 12 – Thousands of supporters thronged the streets of Caracas late Monday to join cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as he registered to seek reelection amid ongoing concerns about his health.
The president sought to play down any concerns he might seek to extend his long-ruling socialist government — which has nationalized strategic industries and heaped praise on Cuba’s Communist model — should he lose at the polls.
“As a player in the political game, I have come here and I commit, before Venezuela and the world, to recognize the outcome of the presidential election” on October 7, said the 57-year-old Chavez.
If he were to be reelected and serve out his term through 2019, Chavez would end up spending 20 years in office.
The Venezuelan government has disclosed few details about Chavez’s health, leading to intense speculation over the political future of Latin America’s most prominent leftist leader.
In May, Chavez — a ferocious critic of the United States who has been in power since 1999 — sought treatment in Cuba, his closest regional ally, after a recurrence of the cancer which he first disclosed last year.
The president said Saturday that he feels “quite fit” after several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, and he seems keen to quash any speculation that he might not be healthy enough to run again for office.
He saluted a sea of supporters wearing his party’s signature red — many chanting “Ooh, Ah, Chavez is not leaving” — from the back of a pickup that took him from the presidential palace to the electoral board four blocks away.
“There will be 10, there will be 10, 10 million, there will be 10,” marchers chanted in a reference to the 10 million votes by which the president has said he will win in October.
Decked out in a jacket in the colors of Venezuela’s red, blue and gold flag, as well as his red beret, Chavez said he was the “fatherland’s candidate,” pumping his fist and blowing kisses to a crowd that went wild.
With close aides and his daughters at his side, Chavez walked the last few yards to the electoral board’s office before saluting his supporters again from the building’s balcony.
“Each one of us is a soldier for Chavez, and we are going to get out the vote for the president,” said Ana Luzardo, a social worker and staunch Chavez backer.
“We will give our lives if necessary for our president,” another supporter, Yudith Iriarte, 46, said.
Despite reassurances from Chavez himself that his radiation treatments have been successful, many Venezuelans have doubts about whether he can make it to the election.
In April, Chavez put his health and political future in the spotlight, begging God aloud at a pre-Easter mass: “Please don’t take me yet.”
“Give me your crown of thorns, Christ, I will bleed; Give me your cross — 100 crosses — and I will carry them for you. But give me life, because I still have things to do for my people and my country,” Chavez said at the time.
The electoral board has said that in the event a substitute were needed, candidates could be put forth up to 10 days before the presidential election.
On Sunday, thousands of Venezuelans marched in the streets of the capital to show support for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, 39, as he formally registered to take on Chavez.
Capriles, the youthful Miranda state governor and center-left candidate for a united opposition, has laid out a policy platform focused on combating violence, creating jobs and boosting social programs.