CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez celebrated his 58th birthday at a re-election campaign rally Saturday, appearing vigorous after declaring himself free of cancer earlier this month.
Chavez rode atop a truck and waved to crowds of supporters in the Caracas slum of Petare. He hugged and kissed two of his daughters on a stage where he sang and danced alongside a band. His supporters sang "Happy Birthday."
"I want to thank everybody for the messages I've been getting. ... Well, I made it to 58," Chavez told reporters, adding that Cuban President Raul Castro had called him and that he had also heard from his allies in Bolivia and Nicaragua.
Chavez said earlier this month that he is free of the cancer that forced him into months of treatments and caused speculation about whether he would be able to campaign.
Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles spoke at an event east of Caracas in Guarenas, where he swore in supporters who will monitor polling stations during the October 7 vote. He said Chavez's Government has wasted money while schools and roads remain in bad shape. Capriles noted that one Caracas hospital has been under construction for years and called it a "monument to corruption".
Capriles also pointed to blackouts, double-digit inflation and seizures of private companies that he said have cost jobs. "He doesn't have anything new to offer," Capriles said of the president, who has been in office since 1999 and is seeking another six-year term.