Chavez Suffers Respiratory Infection After Cancer Surgery

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez suffered a respiratory infection this week after cancer surgery in Cuba, the latest complication in a surgery that forced him to temporarily abandon his duties and boost speculation he’s unfit for a new term.

The self-professed socialist’s Jan. 10 inauguration for a new six-year term isn’t set in stone and could be postponed by the Supreme Court to allow him to recover, local press including El Nacional cited National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello as saying yesterday.

Chavez is currently in stable condition, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said in a national address on television and radio yesterday.

“The medical team said the president should have absolute rest in the coming days and receive the prescribed treatment with the greatest rigor to maintain stability of his vital signs,” he said. “This is typical of patients who have undergone serious surgery, as President Chavez did.”

Cabello said there are precedents in Venezuela for deferring swearing-in ceremonies, and that in his personal opinion it’s unfair to disregard the views of 8 million people who voted for Chavez by not allowing him to take office if he’s not back by the Jan. 10 scheduled inauguration date, the Caracas-based newspaper reported.

Supreme Court

The National Assembly president said it is up to the Supreme Court to decide whether or not to change the date of the inauguration, according to El Nacional, which cited comments Cabello made to journalists after a nationally televised address in which he dismissed speculation any such change was being considered by Chavez’s socialist PSUV party.

“We don’t have any other scenarios,” Cabello said on state television yesterday. “There is a date established in the constitution. We want the president to recover and be healthy, and God willing, that’s how it will be.”

Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on Dec. 13 that Chavez suffered complications including bleeding after having a fourth surgery in 18 months for an undisclosed form of cancer on Dec. 11. Chavez, 58, may not be well again in time to be sworn in for a third term on the scheduled inauguration date, Villegas said on Dec. 12.

Under Venezuelan law, if Chavez steps down before his new term begins on Jan. 10, Maduro would see out the rest of the current term and then hand over power to the National Assembly president who must call for an election within 30 days. If Chavez is unable to start his new term on Jan. 10 but does not step down, the National Assembly President must determine if the absence is temporary or absolute.

“If the absence is temporary, the president of the National Assembly should assume the presidency so there’s no power vacuum and then swear in the President-elect when the temporary absence ends,” Jorge Pabon, a constitutional lawyer and former dean of the law school at the Central University of Venezuela, said today in a telephone interview. “If the absence is absolute, he must call an election and take office in that period.”

Chavez said on Dec. 9 that Venezuelans should elect Maduro as his successor if he is prevented from completing the third, six-year term he won in elections in October.

Baseball-Sized Tumor

Chavez first told Venezuelans he had cancer in June 2011 after undergoing surgery in Cuba to drain an abscess from his pelvic area during which he said doctors discovered a baseball-sized tumor in the same area.

Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly and a close ally of Chavez, said yesterday that he expects the president to be sworn in for a new term next month, dismissing speculation that the ailing leader would skip a planned inauguration while he battles cancer in Cuba.

The socialist party Chavez leads, known as PSUV, won governorships in 20 of 23 states in regional elections held on Dec. 16. Maduro said on Dec. 17 that he had not spoken to Chavez about the results of the election.

Venezuelan dollar bonds have returned 45.6 percent in 2012 as investors speculated that Chavez would not be able to complete his term, the second-biggest return in emerging markets after the Ivory Coast, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBI Global index.

The government’s benchmark 2027 dollar bond rose .7 cents to 99.28 cents on the dollar as of 11:37 a.m. today in New York, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The bond’s yield fell 2 basis points, or 0.02 percentage point, to 9.34 percent.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE