Chavez 'stable' ahead of new term

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is in a “stable situation” in a Cuban hospital receiving treatment due to a severe respiratory infection, his government said.

Information Minister Ernesto Villegas provided the update, saying the government is in “permanent contact” with Mr Chavez’s medical team and relatives who are with him in Havana where he underwent surgery for cancer.

His report came as other government officials reiterated their stance that the president need not be sworn in for a new term as scheduled this Thursday and could instead have his inauguration at a later date.

“The president is in a stable situation in relation with that described in the most recent report,” Mr Villegas said, reading a statement on television. “His treatment is being applied constantly and rigorously, and the patient is assimilating it.”

Mr Villegas did not give details about the treatment, which the government says is for a “respiratory deficiency”.

Independent medical experts say that description suggests Mr Chavez may be breathing with the aid of a ventilator, but also say that is not necessarily the case based on the vague account given.

Leaders of the Catholic Church criticised the government for failing to provide more details about Mr Chavez’s condition nearly a month after his operation.

“The government has not told the nation all of the truth,” said Bishop Diego Padron, president of the Venezuelan Bishops Conference.

Catholic leaders also said that conflicting stances by the government and opposition ahead of Mr Chavez’s scheduled swearing-in make for a potentially dangerous and violent situation.

“The nation’s political and social stability is at serious risk,” the Bishop said, reading a statement from the bishops’ conference.

Mr Chavez describes himself as Christian but has clashed repeatedly with some Catholic leaders, who have accused the president in recent years of becoming increasingly authoritarian.

The leftist president has not spoken publicly since before the December 11 surgery.

Government officials have called Mr Chavez’s condition delicate but have not given details of his complications.

The Venezuelan Constitution says the presidential oath should be taken before politicians in the National Assembly on January 10, this Thursday.

It says the president may also take the oath before the Supreme Court if he is unable to be sworn in before the assembly.

Some opposition leaders have argued that Mr Chavez’s allies would violate the constitution if they try to put off the inauguration.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro has called the swearing-in a “formality” and said the opposition is erroneously interpreting the constitution.

Catholic leaders agreed with the opposition’s arguments, saying the constitution is clear that one presidential term ends and another begins on January 10.

“Altering the constitution to achieve a political goal is morally unacceptable,” the Catholic leaders said, adding that they would oppose any attempts to manipulate the constitution to the “detriment of democracy”.

The opposition announced over the weekend that it intends to raise its objections in international forums if Mr Chavez’s allies violate the constitution. But it remains unclear what the opposition intends to do if Mr Chavez does not show up on inauguration day.

National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello warned the opposition not to try to stir up trouble. Speaking to reporters alongside Mr Maduro, he called for the government’s supporters to demonstrate in the streets of Caracas on Thursday.

Mr Cabello also said at a news conference that some foreign leaders would soon visit Venezuela to express solidarity with Mr Chavez. He did not give details or identify the presidents.

But Mr Cabello also avoided saying whether the inauguration was definitely being put off. Asked if the government now rules out Mr Chavez being able to make it back on time for the inauguration, Mr Cabello said: “We do not rule out absolutely anything at all.”

Mr Maduro reiterated the government’s view that Mr Chavez may be sworn in before the Supreme Court at a later date.

Referring to the Catholic Church’s leaders, Mr Maduro said he hopes they “maintain a conduct of respect”.

Constitutional expert Roman Duque Corredor, a former Supreme Court magistrate, said the constitution is clear that Mr Chavez’s inauguration cannot legally be postponed.


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