CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s opposition said cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez is totally incapacitated and the government should hand his full powers over to Vice President Nicolas Maduro.
The socialist leader is on a life-support machine after doctors induced a coma in recent days, Spain’s ABC newspaper reported, citing sources it didn’t identify. Other rumors surrounding Chavez on a respirator are rampant.
Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, executive secretary of the opposition alliance known as the Democratic Unity Table, said the government should “tell the truth” about Chavez’s health.
Chavez hasn’t been seen in public since alighting from a plane in Havana on Dec. 10 to undergo his fourth cancer-related surgery since June 2011.
“To attempt to make people think that the president is currently in control of his functions is an enormous irresponsibility because it’s obvious and evident that he isn’t,” Aveledo said Wednesday in comments broadcast on Globovision.
Maduro said Tuesday he’ll return to Caracas after spending time at Chavez’s bedside during a four-day visit to Cuba.
He said the 58-year-old suffered renewed complications from a respiratory infection after his latest surgery. Chavez is supposed to take the oath of office to start his third six-year term on Jan. 10.
Aveledo cited an article in Venezuela’s constitution that states that a “temporary absence” should be declared and full presidential powers transferred to the vice president for as much as 90 days if the president is away from the country for more than five days.
During frequent absences for treatment in Cuba the past two years, Chavez has repeatedly declined to hand over power, saying he could govern from the communist island.
Chavez’s brother-in-law, Science Minister Jorge Arreaza, said Wednesday on his Twitter account that the president’s condition is “stable” yet “delicate.”
Under the constitution, if Chavez is unable to start his new term on Jan. 10 and doesn’t step down, the National Assembly president must determine if the absence is temporary or permanent.
If his absence is deemed permanent, the assembly president must call for an election within 30 days. Current National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, a rival of Maduro, faces re-election Jan. 5.
In a resolution in the Official Gazette dated Dec. 21, Chavez gave Maduro some economic powers, including the right to authorize debt sales and seize assets as well as the power to approve changes to Venezuela’s annual budget and accept or reject proposals submitted by government ministers.
While Maduro was in Cuba, he appointed Electricity Minister Hector Navarro as temporary vice president until Dec. 31.
It isn’t clear who was in charge of South America’s largest oil producer yesterday when Navarro’s term expired and Maduro remained in Cuba.
Before departing for Cuba, Chavez urged Venezuelans to vote for Maduro should his health prevent him from assuming office and said he was leaving the country in the “good hands” of Maduro while declining to cede full power.
Rumors of Chavez’s demise or that he’s in a coma intensified Dec. 30 when Maduro announced from Havana that Chavez was suffering renewed complications from a respiratory infection.
Maduro said yesterday that he met with Chavez twice and also spoke with Fidel Castro and members of Chavez’s family at the hospital where the Venezuelan leader is being treated. Maduro chose to stay on some extra days after announcing the complications.
While the former paratrooper is aware of the setbacks, Maduro expressed confidence in his recovery.
“He squeezed my left hand with an immense strength while we spoke,” Maduro said. “If he is fighting with such strength, so we must have the same strength. We are confident and have faith in God and the doctors that our comandante will continue to evolve and sooner rather than later will come out of this delicate post-operative situation.”
Yields on Venezuela’s dollar-denominated bonds due 2027 fell 38 basis points, or 0.38 percentage point, to 8.95 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The price rose 3.07 cents to 102.41 cents on the dollar, the highest since Dec. 12.
In a 50-minute interview on the Telesur network yesterday, Maduro praised policies pursued by Chavez, while stressing the importance of ties between Cuba and Venezuela.
The interview was designed to defuse speculation that Chavez’s death is imminent while positioning Maduro as the candidate most likely to continue his legacy once he’s gone, said David Smilde, a sociologist at the University of Georgia who wrote a book about Chavez’s rule.
“It was meant to show that he can do what Chavez does and to show him in a position of leadership in the type of one-on-one extended interview that you only do with a leader of state,” Smilde said in a phone interview from Caracas. “It was meant to make Maduro look presidential.”
Maduro vowed to keep Venezuelans informed of any change in the president’s health.
The gravity of Chavez’s state of health prompted the cancellation of New Year’s Eve events in Caracas and the staging of vigils in which Venezuelans prayed for their leader to survive the latest setback.
During his Dec. 11 operation, Chavez experienced complications due to bleeding, Maduro said Dec. 13. Surgeons took corrective measures in time to control the bleeding, he said.
A week later, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said that Chavez was in “stable” condition after his medical team controlled a respiratory infection.
On Dec. 24, Maduro told state television that Chavez had recovered enough to talk with him for about 20 minutes, including 15 minutes devoted to economic instructions. Venezuela’s leader was in good spirits, walking, and doing some exercises, Maduro said.
While the prolonged absence from public view has prompted speculation that Chavez won’t return to Venezuela in time to assume power for a new term, Maduro said he was encouraged by Chavez’s resolve.
“Yesterday people were asking me via text message how I saw Chavez,” Maduro said. “I said that I saw him with an immense strength.”
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