‘‘He is one of the most important forces we've had on this planet. And I will wish him nothing but that great strength he has shown over and over again,’’ Penn told a crowd at the vigil, his voice quavering with emotion. He called Chavez ‘‘inspiring.’’
Throughout his nearly 14-year-old presidency, Chavez has been loved by some Venezuelans and reviled by others as he has nationalized companies, crusaded against U.S. influence and labeled his enemies ‘‘oligarchs’’ and ‘‘squalid ones.’’
The 58-year-old president won re-election in October and is due to be sworn in for a new six-year term on Jan. 10. If Chavez were to die, the constitution says that new elections should be called and held within 30 days.
Chavez first announced he had been diagnosed with cancer in June 2011. He underwent a surgery for a pelvic abscess, and then had a baseball-sized tumor removed from his pelvic area. In February, he underwent another surgery when a tumor reappeared in the same area.
He has also undergone months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Throughout his treatments in Cuba, Chavez has kept secret some details of his illness, including the exact location and type of the tumors.
Chavez had previously said in July that tests showed he was cancer-free. But he said over the weekend that a new round of tests in Cuba had again found cancerous cells.
Diego Torres in Quito, Ecuador, and Associated Press writers Ian James and Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas contributed to this report.
Christopher Toothaker on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ctoothaker