Chavez ally floats idea of postponing inauguration
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- The president of Venezuela's National Assembly has floated the idea of postponing Hugo Chavez's Jan. 10 inauguration while he recovers from surgery in Cuba, a proposal that reflects mounting concern over the president's tough fight against complications following his fourth cancer-related operation.
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello told reporters Tuesday that it was simply his personal opinion and not an official proposal.
"You can't tie the will of the people to a date," Cabello said in remarks published Wednesday by the newspaper El Nacional. "My idea is that we can't see the laws and the constitution from the restrictive point of view."
The constitution says the president should be sworn in for a new term on Jan. 10. Information Minister Ernesto Villegas last week said that if it was not possible for Chavez to return in time, Venezuelans should be prepared to understand, though he didn't elaborate.
Cabello expressed hope that Chavez could still be back for his swearing-in. But Venezuelan analyst Edgar Gutierrez said that Cabello appeared to be sending a message that it might take longer, and that he believes pushing back the date is an option.
"It's the clearest signal that the president won't be in conditions to be sworn in on Jan. 10," Gutierrez said. "Diosdado is preparing the field of opinion."
Cabello noted the constitution also says that if a president is unable to be sworn in by the National Assembly, he may be sworn in by the Supreme Court. "And it doesn't put a date" for that, he said, noting that there is no mention of a date in the article dealing with a swearing-in before the Supreme Court.
Former Supreme Court magistrate Roman Duque Corredor has ruled out the possibility of authorities going to Cuba for a swearing-in, saying a president cannot take the oath of office outside Venezuela. A president can be sworn in even if temporarily incapacitated, but would need to be conscious and in Venezuela, he said.
If a president-elect dies or is declared incapacitated before the swearing-in, the constitution says the National Assembly president would temporarily take charge of the government and a new presidential vote would have to be held within 30 days.
Cabello is one of the few government officials who have traveled to Cuba since Chavez's surgery Dec. 11, and his comments carry weight with the president's United Socialist Party of Venezuela, known as PSUV for its initials in Spanish. Cabello has been a close ally of Chavez throughout his presidency and is an influential vice president of the party.
The 58-year-old president has not spoken publicly since his surgery for pelvic cancer, and on Tuesday the government said he had a respiratory infection, though it was controlled. Chavez also suffered bleeding during the six-hour operation, which the government has said was quickly stanched.
Diego Moya-Ocampos, an analyst with the consulting firm IHS Global Insight in London, said that given the control that Chavez's movement has over all state institutions, including the Supreme Court, "any arrangement that could suit the ruling PSUV party political strategies is possible.
"This could include postponing the date of the inauguration for the new term, if needed, or even taking advantage of any legal technicality that could see Chavez formally inaugurating his mandate from Cuba," Moya-Ocampos said. "This will all, of course, depend on Chavez's state of health and what is more strategically convenient to those making the decisions."
He said that given the president's condition a new presidential election to replace Chavez, sooner or later, "seems inevitable."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)