Venezuela delays Chavez inauguration as crisis deepens
CARACAS, Venezuela - Ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez cannot return home in time for his inauguration on Thursday, January 10, and so will take the oath of office at a later date before the Supreme Court, the government announced.
The announcement confirming that Chavez, 58, is too sick to make it back in time for the January 10 inauguration came in a letter to the National Assembly from Vice President Nicolas Maduro.
"According to the recommendation of the medical team... the process of post-operative recover must extend beyond January 10 of the current year, reason for which he he will not be able to appear on that date before the National Assembly," said the letter, read out by National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello.
The letter went on to say that, in keeping with article 231 of the constitution, Chavez would take the oath before the Supreme Court at a later day.
The long-expected decision came amid a storm of controversy over whether his current term can be extended beyond January 10, and calls by the opposition for the Supreme Court to intervene.
"I do not know what the judges of the Supreme Court are waiting for. Right now in Venezuela, without any doubt whatsoever, a constitutional conflict has arisen," opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said.
The government says the swearing-in is a mere formality that can be delayed, but the opposition says he must at least be declared temporarily incapacitated and replaced on an interim basis by the National Assembly speaker.
The charter also says new elections must be held within 30 days if the president-elect or president dies or is permanently incapacitated either before he takes office or in the first four years of his six-year term.
"There must be a response from our institutions in the face of this conflict," said Capriles, who lost to Chavez in October by an 11-percent margin but gave him the toughest political fight of his 14-year tenure.
Capriles also urged Latin American leaders -- Chavez has long been the figurehead of the anti-US left in the region -- to stay away from a rally convened by the government for Thursday in place of the inauguration.
So far Uruguay's President Jose Mujica, Bolivia's President Evo Morales and Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino of Ecuador are the only ones to confirm their attendance.
"Chavez's health is no longer in our hands," said Mujica in an interview with the Montevideo newspaper La Republica. "Our function is to back the government and people of Venezuela."
Capriles urged regional leaders not to succumb to "a game by a political party" -- alluding to Venezuela's ruling party. He mentioned by name the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Bolivia and Ecuador.
Earlier, the country's main opposition coalition turned to international organizations for support.
It warned the Organization of American States of an "alteration of the constitutional order" if the government retains its grip on power regardless of Chavez being unable to take the oath of office.
In Washington, the State Department said Venezuelans should decide for themselves what to do without resorting to violence, calling for a "broad based discussion."
"And it needs to be decided in a manner that is free, fair, transparent, is seen as ensuring a level playing field in Venezuela," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said late Monday that Chavez's medical condition had remained "stationary" since the latest complication from surgery was reported four days ago.
Chavez is suffering from a severe pulmonary infection that has resulted in a "respiratory insufficiency," officials have said.
The leftist government and the conservative opposition brandish conflicting interpretations of the constitution.
Chavez's allies call the president's swearing-in a "formality" that can be fulfilled sometime after January 10.
But, in a letter to OAS Secretary General Miguel Insulza, the head of the main opposition coalition, Ramon Aveledo, argued that under the constitution the current administration's term ends on January 10 and cannot be extended.
The government plans to hold a huge pro-Chavez rally with the participation of a clutch of foreign leaders on Thursday -- a reminder of the 55 percent support that won the leftist firebrand a convincing re-election.
A key opposition leader, meanwhile, had called for street protests if the government pushed past January 10 without a swearing-in, raising the risks of confrontation in the country with the world's largest proven oil reserves.
Throughout his illness, first detected in June 2011, the 58-year-old Chavez has refused to relinquish the powers of the presidency, even when leaving for Cuba for his fourth and most difficult round of surgery. - Rappler.com