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Venezuela has not seen its president since the first week of December. News about his health only leaking out in small doses.
The people were told he was having his cancer seen to in Havana, Cuba. But, like the first three times this happened, they weren’t told what kind of cancer it was. Health worry among Chavez’s cult-like following had political reverberations, too.
The country’s rules said he had to take the oath of office this January 10, after his re-election on October 7, for the third time, to serve for six more years as president. He promised his supporters in July that he was totally free of cancer.
He went back on this on December 8, saying he needed time in Cuba again. He said, ‘if something happens to me, here’s what I ask you to do.’
Chavez said: “My firm opinion, full like a full moon, irrevocable, absolute, total, is that, should it become constitutionally required to convene new presidential elections, you should choose Nicolas Maduro as president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”
While legal protocol was debated by Chavez supporters and opponents, his devoted following prayed for him.
Chavez protege Maduro, whom he had named to succeed him, by January 4 began to inform the public that his patron would return only when the doctors decreed he could.
Though he might miss the inauguration date, Maduro said that even if Chavez were absent from the National Assembly, he could still be sworn into office by the Supreme Court.
Venezuela’s armed forces supported a postponement. The man’s close circle said it was only a formality. The opposition raised fears of a power vacuum.
On 9 January, the Constitutional Supreme Court confirmed the legality of the president’s rule without a swearing-in, and it did not set a new date.
We asked journalist Marta Aguirre of daily newspaper Espana Exterior in Caracas how the court verdict had been received by Venezuelans.
Marta Aguirre: “The court’s decision completely breaks with constitutionality. But this was obviously going to happen, because every time the government decides in a way that doesn’t conform with the constitution it twists it to its own needs. The government holds all the powers, and so it wasn’t a big surprise.”
euronews: “Do you think the Venezuelans are sufficiently informed by the government about the president’s health?”
Aguirre: “The country does not have the clear medical diagnosis of President Chavez, or the prognosis. An awful lot has been kept isolated about this, and the latest information is really blurred. They talk about the president being stable, but stable at what stage? We don’t know that.
euronews: “In your opinion, how long could this power vacuum go on, with Chavez absent, how long are people prepared to wait?”
Aguirre: “We think the government is stalling for time, in case there are new elections, so they can be sure of winning them, even without President Chavez. Because if there’s one thing that is clear in the country it’s that the poor, the big majority who voted for him, and not for his party or his disciples… they vote for Chavez: for the messianic and charismatic figure of President Chavez.”