Chavez Turns 57 Vowing to Stay in Power until 2031
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavezsang, danced and said he intends to stay in power for two more decades as he celebrated his 57th birthday looking ahead to months of cancer treatment.
Chavez rallied a crowd of cheering supporters from the balcony of the presidential palace on Thursday, waving a large Venezuelan flag and briefly wrapping himself in it. He said he expects to lose his hair soon as a result of chemotherapy and that a long process of treatment lies ahead.
"This is going to be various months all of this year, but I'm going to continue in charge of my government functions," Chavez said.
He mixed serious statements about his upcoming treatment with the ecstatic rallying cries of a leader already in pre-campaign mode ahead of the 2012 election.
"Next year, we will win the presidential elections once again! Strength, unity!" Chavez said. Setting a goal he has never before reached, he said: "We're going for 10 million votes next year!"
The crowd chanted: "Oh, no! Chavez won't go!"
Chavez sang and danced briefly with one of his daughters on the balcony while a band below played folk music. He saluted to the crowd and blew kisses, standing next to three grandchildren.
His supporters sang while atop a giant birthday cake sparkling candles burned.
"I invite you all to celebrate my 77th," Chavez said. "I had said I'd leave in 2021. Well, I'm not going away in 2021 or anything. Maybe in 2031."
The leftist leader has been in office since 1999 and is seeking re-election next year to another six-year term. A poll released last week said Chavez's public approval rating remains at 50 percent and hasn't significantly varied since his cancer diagnosis.
Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba on June 20 to remove a cancerous tumor. He hasn't said what type of cancer he has been diagnosed with or specified where exactly it was located, saying only that it was in his pelvic region.
He underwent his first phase of chemotherapy in Cuba last week and said the treatment aims to ensure that no malignant cells reappear.