Venezuela decrees day of 'loyalty and love' for late Chavez

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at the National Assembly in Caracas October 8, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has declared an official day of "loyalty and love" for late President Hugo Chavez, seeking to keep the messianic socialist leader in the public eye.

The OPEC nation will celebrate the "Day of Loyalty and Love for Supreme Commander Hugo Chavez and the Fatherland" each year starting on December 8 to commemorate the anniversary of Chavez's last speech to the nation before dying of cancer.

"He transformed Venezuela, which 20 years ago was submerged in the darkness of capitalism, helping usher in the birth of a fatherland full of hope," reads the decree published in the Official Gazette circulating on Tuesday.

The date coincides with this year's election for mayors that will be a crucial test of Maduro's influence in the provinces.

Chavez won re-election last October despite struggling with an undisclosed form of cancer, helped by a strong emotional connection with millions of poor Venezuelans and a years of generous oil-financed social welfare programs.

He died in March, following months of treatment in Cuba.

(Reporting by Eyanir Chinea and Brian Ellsworth. Editing by Christopher Wilson)