The Venezuelan Catholic Church said on Monday that President Hugo Chávez must attend his inauguration when his term ends on Thursday. The country's leftist leadership plans to indefinitely delay the inauguration to allow Chávez time to return from Havana, where he is undergoing treatment for an unspecified type of cancer. But Monsignor Diego Padron, head of Venezuela's Conference of Bishops, said that delaying the ceremony would be a morally unacceptable violation of the constitution.”
Chávez, 58, has not been seen in public since he traveled to Cuba for his fourth cancer surgery nearly a month ago—the longest absence in his 14-year presidency. Given Chávez’ weakened state, Attorney-General Cilia Flores said Sunday that the swearing-in can take place at a later date. But Monsignor Padron said that a delayed inauguration would be unconstitutional, saying that “to alter the constitution to attain a political objective is morally unacceptable." Meanwhile the opposition has called for massive street protests if the government does not respect Thursday’s deadline.
During Chávez’ absence, Nicolás Maduro, the former foreign minister who was named vice president in October, has been running the country. The constitution stipulates that National Assembly President—Diosdado Cabello, who was re-elected to the post over the weekend,—act as president if Chávez is declared incapacitated before Thursday, and that Maduro would become head of state if Chávez is declared incapacitated after Thursday.