Hundreds of Venezuelans rally for more information on ailing Chavez


Chavez supporters gather at Simon Bolivar Square on Feb. 18, 2013.


Juan Barreto

CARACAS, Venezuela — Hundreds of opposition members took to the streets of Caracas on Sunday to demand greater transparency from the government about their cancer-stricken leader, Hugo Chavez.

Protesters, calling for an end to the secrecy surrounding Chavez's health, gathered around the Supreme Court and carried signs that said, "Give us the truth!" and "Stop lying!"

"We feel that they [government officials] are trying to trick us," elderly protester Mildred Moreau told the Associated Press.

The Sunday march was one of the largest the opposition has held in recent months, though there were still only a few hundred marching through the wealthier parts of Caracas.

On the other side of Caracas, a decidedly different gathering was underway:

While the opposition came out stronger than normal Sunday, the moment of unity obscured the fact that it is falling apart. Its extremes are calling for a new leader — despite Henrique Capriles, who currently heads the opposition, being the only unifying hope they've had in 14 years.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro is the heir-apparent should Chavez succumb to his illness. On Saturday night, Maduro mockingly called Capriles, who is currently traveling in the United States, "the Prince of New York."

Capriles comes from wealth, and Maduro's quip plays to members of the working class, keen Chavez supporters.

Protesters have demanded a detailed report on their socialist leader's illness. Chavez temporarily handed power to Maduro before he underwent a delicate operation in Cuba in mid-December. 

Very little official information has been provided about Chavez's condition since then, but Maduro announced on Saturday that he had been undergoing chemotherapy treatment while recovering from a respiratory illness. 

Sunday's demonstration suggests that Maduro's report did not mollify the concerned public. Many are anxious that Chavez is no longer well enough to rule after 14 years in power — although local pollsters said last week almost 58 percent of the nation thinks he will recover. About a third believe Chavez will not hold power again.

In the event Chavez can no longer rule, Venezuela would hold a vote within 30 days to elect a successor, setting the stage for what could be a tight race between Madura and opposition leader Henrique Capriles.