Though Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will not be present, Uruguayan President José Mujica, Bolivian President Evo Morales, and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega will be in Caracas today for the Venezuelan leader’s intended—and now postponed—inauguration.
As the ailing Chávez remains in Cuba recovering from a respiratory infection that followed his December 11 cancer surgery, hemispheric well-wishers are arriving in Venezuela to express support for the president, who was re-elected to a third six-year term as president in October despite concerns that he could soon become too ill to rule the country.
Vice President Nicolás Maduro said yesterday that Venezuelan officials have planned an event in honor of Chávez, who has not been seen in public for about a month. Chávez’ Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV) said that it would convene a rally in front of the presidential palace. Meanwhile, Henrique Capriles, Chávez’ opponent in last year’s presidential elections, urged heads of state not to attend the proceedings.
Yesterday, the Venezuelan Supreme Court announced that Chávez’ absence from Venezuela on the date of his intended inauguration was legally permissible and would have no impact on his claim to the presidency. Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales rejected opposition claims that postponing the president’s swearing-in ceremony until after January 10—the inauguration date stipulated in the constitution—would violate Venezuelan law.
As his January 10 inauguration approaches, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez remains shielded from the public in a Havana, Cuba hospital—prompting calls for transparency on President Chavez’ state of health and contingency plans should he not be ready for his swearing-in ceremony.
Though he was re-elected last October to another six-year term as president, Chávez’ silence has raised concerns that he may not be able to take the oath of office next Tuesday to begin his new term. Ramón Aveledo, leader of the opposition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Unity—MUD) group, said yesterday in a press conference that “it is essential that the government act in a manner that gives confidence.”
“Trying to make the country believe that the president is governing is absurd to the point of being irresponsible,” Aveledo said.
Chávez has not been heard from since undergoing surgery in Cuba three weeks ago, allowing rumors to percolate that the leader’s health is drastically failing. Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro returned from Cuba yesterday to reassure Venezuelans that Chávez is “totally conscious” but faces “a complex and delicate situation.”
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello paid a visit to Chávez yesterday, while Minister of Science and Technology Jorge Arreaza tweeted that “the comandante Chávez continues battling hard and sends all his love to our people.” Venezuelan journalist Nelson Bocaranda reported that Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner visited her Venezuelan counterpart in secret last month.
Before departing for Cuba last month, Chávez asked his supporters to vote for Maduro, his appointed heir, if he cannot assume the presidency. The U.S. State Department has expressed its desire for a transition of power in accordance with Venezuela’s constitution, which expressly mandates that new elections should be held within 30 days if the president-elect is unable to take the oath of office.