Venezuelan Vice President delivers State of the Nation speech while Chavez remains in Cuba

By IAN JAMES and VIVIAN SEQUERA | AP | JANUARY 16, 2012

Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro took the place of ailing President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday by delivering a short speech and turning in a state-of-the-nation report amid legal debate about his legitimacy.

Maduro submitted the report in writing from Chavez’s government while the president remained in Cuba undergoing treatment after his fourth cancer-related surgery. Opposition politicians argued that the annual speech should have been postponed because the president is supposed to deliver it, and about a dozen walked out in protest.

Maduro announced during the speech, a day after visiting with Chavez in Cuba, that the president designated former vice president Elias Jaua as the new foreign minister. Maduro had kept the foreign minister’s post after his appointment as vice president in October.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said the naming of Jaua as foreign minister should be reviewed because it was unclear under what authority the vice president was acting when such powers belong to the president alone.

Only a portion of the opposition’s representatives walked out of the National Assembly session.

Reflecting critics’ charges of heavy Cuban influence in the political events unfolding in Venezuela, one of the legislators who left, Maria Corina Machado said: “The government of Venezuela today is in Cuba, and that’s in violation of the constitution.”

Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez dismissed the opposition’s allegations that the government was acting illegally by going ahead with the special legislative session.

“There’s no constitutional controversy,” Ramirez told reporters, calling the politicians who walked out “the most extremist sector of the far right.”

It was the second time in less than a week that Maduro has presided over an event that would normally have been led by Chavez. Maduro says Chavez remains in charge as president, though it remains unclear when the president might be well enough to address Venezuelans or return home.

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Venezuela tries to keep it together without Chavez

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | JANUARY 7, 2012

Venezuela’s acting President, Nicolás Maduro, returned to his country Thursday after visiting Cuba, where Hugo Chavez was admitted last month to have surgery. Maduro continued the government’s official policy of not revealing details about Chavez’ health status while affirming that the nation is united behind the so-called Chavismo.

After five days in Havana, Maduro avoided talking about Chavez’ health when he appeared in public at a coffee factory but said that Venezuela is experiencing tough days. The vice-president said that now more than ever Venezuelan’s are together, which he labeled as a response to the information published in recent weeks about divisions within the Venezuelan government due to the prolonged absence of their president. Some media and many social network accounts even announced that Chavez had died. The Mail Online published an article citing that Chavez is alive just because he is connected to life support machines.

“We are united more than ever, Maduro said. We’ve sworn before Commander Chavez that we will be united with the largest loyalty in history,” Maduro asserted in the presence of the President of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, with whom Maduro maintains a tense relationship, and the Minister of Energy and Petroleum, Rafael Ramirez, another member of the executive leadership reluctant to Maduro. The vice-president also ensured people that the President will return to the country “sooner rather than later”.

“We have one single transition and it has been going on for at least six years and President Hugo Chavez is the commander of the Bolivarian revolution,” Maduro said in a ceremony in a nationalized company. “Today we have an economy in transition to socialism,” Maduro said in his first official act after traveling to Cuba last December 29 December.

Meanwhile, Cabello has endorsed the “revolutionary unity” as a top priority after the reelection of Chavez. The President of the National Assembly has warned the opposition that it will have to “wait for 2000 years” before they can cause fractures within the ‘chavismo’. “We have no doubt, we will not let any effort be wasted. Everyday there will be more revolution. Do not let yourselves be manipulated by rumors from the opposition,” he said.

On the state of Chavez, Maduro has merely reiterated its willingness to continue as head of government, which has been report number 26 on the president’s health. “President Hugo Chavez is leading the country, he is the first worker. Chavez is a man of the people who became the first soldier and worker of the Fatherland”, he said. “We arrived in Havana after visiting President Chavez taking him all the love of the Venezuelan people,” he said while being flanked by the full cabinet. Maduro has asserted that Chavez is “aware” of the situation and has again praised his “fighting spirit”. Maduro traveled to Havana with the State Attorney General, Cilia Flores, and other members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

On 12 December, Chavez underwent a “complex” surgery, which lasted six hours, where an international medical team extirpated a tumor in the same area in which another tumor had been removed. Since the last operation, Chavez has not appeared in public, nor has the government released any image or recording.

Back in June 2011, when he was diagnosed with cancer in the pelvic area, the president of Venezuela, underwent three surgeries – not counting the last one -, four cycles of chemotherapy and six of radiotherapy. Throughout 2012, Chavez faced sharp criticism from the opposition for having medical treatment in Cuba and in Venezuela as well as his prolonged absences from the country. The secrecy surrounding his cancer treatment triggered speculation about the true state of health of the president too.

Chavez won the presidential elections on October 7, earning his fourth consecutive term. However, the cancer predictably came back and is now threatening continuity in the Palace of Miraflores, so he asked his supporters to support the Vice-president, Nicolas Maduro, as his successor, in case “something happens”.

The deadline for Chavez to return to office is January 10, the day that he will have to be sworn in as president. Should this act not materialize if he is not able to make the trip back to occupy office, new elections will have to take place within 60 days. Although this scenario is denied by the Venezuelan government, Chavez’ health is very delicate.

The Venezuelan president’s situation is difficult, after undergoing a fourth operation for cancer relapse, as stated by the Uruguayan Senator Lucia Topolansky, wife of President Jose Mujica. The situation of the president of Venezuela is “complex” and the situation in general “rather unpredictable,” said the lawmaker to Unoticias.

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