With his ailing boss recovering in a Cuban clinic after undergoing cancer surgery more than a month ago, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro told lawmakers on Tuesday there was nothing illegal about Hugo Chávez wanting to govern the South American nation from a hospital bed.
In support of this, Maduro announced that Chávez had appointed a new foreign minister on Tuesday and was keeping up with events in Venezuela from Havana, where he is said to still be in a serious but stable condition.
"We are following the Constitution in an impeccable manner," Maduro told the National Assembly in Caracas. He offered no new information on the 58-year-old leader's health beyond what he had said earlier in the day - that Chávez was beginning "an uphill climb" to recovery.
Chávez has not been seen in public since
Since he left for Havana, Chávez has not been seen in public since early December. His condition remains a mystery, but Venezuelan officials have acknowledged that he suffered from serious respiratory problems and hemorrhaging following surgery to remove a tumor in the pelvic area.
The Venezuelan opposition has called on the president to step aside and demand that new elections to be held as outlined in the 1999 Constitution because Chávez could not attend his swearing in on January 10.
Last week the Supreme Court ruled that Chávez's inauguration could be held at a later date. But over recent days there have been growing suggestions that the fiery leftist leader, who was first elected in 1998, won't be able to serve out his six-year term.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff reportedly asked Maduro to hold elections should Chávez die. "It would be the best way to ensure a democratic and peaceful transition, which Brazil wants," Reuters quoted Rousseff as saying.
Rousseff has been in close contact with Chávez's Brazilian physicians, who form part of the medical team that operated on the Venezuelan president last month.
Stopover in Havana
Over the weekend, Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner made a stopover in Havana to visit with Chávez but, according to Venezuelan journalist Nelson Bocaranda, who has been accurately reporting on his medical condition, she decided at the last minute not to see him during her stay. Fernández met with Fidel Castro and his brother, Cuban President Raúl Castro, and members of Chávez's family before leaving for a Middle East and Asian tour. Fernández wrote on her Twitter account: "Farewell," which some have interpreted as a final goodbye to Chávez.
Bocaranda also reported that Chávez left her a personal letter that was written before he underwent surgery.
Meanwhile, Venezuela's new foreign minister, Elías Jaua, who was vice president before Maduro was appointed to the post last year, will meet with his counterparts from Colombia and Ecuador in the coming days, the Caracas government said Wednesday.