By Mary Murray, NBC News
It will be a quiet New Year’s Eve in Venezuela.
Tens of thousands people on Monday were expected to cram Plaza Bolivar, a beautiful square in the center of Caracas, where an annual celebration featuring top bands and free food is held. Vendors were already set up to sell trinkets to the crowd.
But in a last minute change, Jacqueline Faría, head of the Capital District governing Caracas, canceled the free concert that rings in the new year, calling instead for Venezuelans to “unite in prayer” for ailing Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and to include his “prompt recovery” among their wishes for 2013.
On Monday afternoon, Venezuela state television began airing a live Catholic mass for Chavez that was being held at the Palacio de Miraflores, the building that houses presidential work offices. Meantime, the Ministry of Communications was organizing a massive prayer meeting at San Francisco Church at 5 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET) and other Chavez supporters were planning a political rally at 6 p.m. at Plaza Bolivar.
On Sunday night, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro delivered a somber address to the nation from Havana, Cuba, where Chavez, 58, remains hospitalized after his fourth operation for an undisclosed form of cancer.
Maduro, flanked by one of Chavez’s daughters Rosa Virginia and her husband, Science Minister Jorge Arreaza, read a prepared statement revealing that the Venezuelan president is now suffering “new complications” stemming from a respiratory infection he contracted after an operation on Dec. 11.
These problems developed on top of profuse bleeding Chavez experienced during the six-hour surgery in Havana. Chavez has been battling cancer for the past 18 months — flying to Cuba for surgery as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Maduro indicated that Chavez was conscious and able to speak, dispelling rumors circulating earlier in the day that claimed Chavez was only breathing with the help of a respirator and close to death.
“Just a few minutes ago we were with President Chavez,” said Maduro. “We greeted each other and he himself talked about these complications.”
Again Sunday evening, Maduro described Chavez’s condition as “delicate” and with “risks” while warning the nation to prepare for difficult times. Chavez has not been seen since his surgery three weeks ago and no additional information on his condition has appeared in Cuba’s state-run media.
“We trust that the avalanche of love and solidarity with Comandante Chavez, together with his immense will to live and the care of the best medical specialists, will help our president win this new battle,” Maduro said.
For the moment, Maduro remains in Havana and said he was spending time with Chavez’s medical team and relatives.