CARACAS, VENEZUELA: President Hugo Chavez is due to be sworn in for a new term in less than a week and his closest allies still aren’t saying what they plan to do if the ailing leader is unable to return from a Cuban hospital to take the oath of office.
Chavez hasn’t been seen or heard from since his Dec. 11 cancer surgery, and speculation has grown that his illness could be reaching its final stages. The president’s elder brother Adan and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello joined a parade of visitors who saw Chavez in Havana this week, and then returned to Caracas on Thursday along with Vice President Nicolas Maduro.
“In the past hours, we’ve been accompanying President Hugo Chavez and taking him the courage and strength of the Venezuelan people,” Maduro said on television. Appearing next to Cabello visiting a government-run coffee plant in Caracas, he said they had been with Chavez together with the president’s brother, his son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez and Attorney General Cilia Flores.
Chavez’s health crisis has raised contentious questions ahead of the swearing-in set for Jan. 10, including whether the inauguration could legally be postponed, whether Supreme Court justices might travel to Havana to administer the oath of office, and, most of all, what will happen if Chavez can’t begin his new term.
While the president’s allies so far appear united, analysts have speculated that differences might emerge between factions led by Maduro, Chavez’s chosen successor, and Cabello, who is thought to wield power within the military and who would be in line to temporarily assume the presidency until a new election can be held.
Standing together on Thursday, Maduro and Cabello said they are more united than ever.
“We’ve sworn before commander Hugo Chavez, and we’ve ratified the oath today before commander Chavez, that we’re going to be united, together with our people, with the greatest loyalty,” Maduro said.