In this photo released Friday, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, center, poses for a photo with his daughters. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 6:50 PM
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Hundreds of Venezuelans held a candlelight vigil Friday evening for President Hugo Chavez, praying for their leader while he remained in a hospital undergoing cancer treatment.
Chavez's supporters gathered on a large staircase in a hillside park near the presidential palace. They lit candles and sang along with a recording of a healthy Chavez belting out the national anthem.
Some wiped away tears. Others closed their eyes and prayed.
Some said they felt sad, yet still hopeful that Chavez might be able to pull through it.
"We're praying for the president, for him to get through all of this," said Ana Perez, a seamstress holding a candle and shielding her flame from the breeze with a piece of paper.
Her eyes filled with tears as she talked about Chavez. "There is no other president like this one. He's unique," she said, wiping a wet cheek.
"He's going to come out of all of this, and he's going to get better," Perez said. "He's survived many hard things. He's strong."
A group of indigenous people in traditional dress danced around a bonfire at the base of the stairs. One woman blew on a conch shell, while others shook gourds as they danced around the flames.
Chavez hasn't been seen since he returned to Venezuela on Monday from Cuba, where for 10 weeks he was recovering and fighting complications following his latest cancer surgery Dec. 11.
The Venezuelan government provided an update on Chavez's condition Thursday night, saying that he remained at a military hospital in Caracas and that "the medical treatment for the fundamental illness continues without presenting significant adverse effects."
The government has not given details about the treatment Chavez is undergoing, and hasn't identified the type or exact location of the tumors that have been removed from his pelvic region.
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas read the statement on television, saying that a "respiratory insufficiency" that arose in the weeks after the surgery "persists and its tendency has not been favorable, thus it continues to be treated."
The government has said that Chavez is breathing through a tracheal tube, which makes talking difficult. But officials say he still is able to write, communicate with government officials and sign documents.
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 letter, which ran for about 1,500 words, Chavez said he was sorry not to be able to attend the meeting. Chavez denounced Western military intervention in Africa and reiterated his criticisms of NATO's military involvement in Libya in 2011, when his ally Moammar Gadhafi was ousted and killed.
Chavez also called for more "South-South cooperation" and said of Africa and South America, "We are the same people."
The letter ended with the words: "We will live and be triumphant!"