Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro arrived in Cuba early today to visit President Hugo Chavez, who had surgery Dec. 11 on the communist island for an undisclosed cancer.
After landing at the Havana airport, Maduro went directly to the hospital where Chavez is being treated to meet Chavez’s family members and establish a time to visit the ailing leader, Cuba’s state-run Granma newspaper said on its website.
Maduro, speaking on state television yesterday, said Electricity Minister Hector Navarro would stand in as vice president in his absence. Maduro read a Christmas message earlier yesterday sent by Chavez to the South American country’s Armed Forces.
“I have had to battle again for my health to continue dedicating myself fully to Venezuela’s happiness,” Chavez said, according to the letter read by Maduro on state television. “I am full of faith due to the commitment and loyalty the revolutionary Armed Forces has shown in this complex and difficult time.”
Chavez, 58, who won a third presidential term on Oct. 7, hasn’t appeared in public since flying to Cuba 19 days ago for his fourth cancer operation. He said on Dec. 8 that voters should elect Maduro to protect his legacy if his illness prevents him from remaining in office.
Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello have said that Chavez can be sworn in after the Jan. 10 inauguration date by the Supreme Court. Cabello said Dec. 26 that Chavez’s electoral victory outweighs swearing-in protocol and the constitution doesn’t limit the time and place of the ceremony.
“We can’t take away the wish of the majority from Oct. 7 simply to satisfy the Venezuelan bourgeoisie,” Cabello said.
Under Venezuelan law, if Chavez steps down before Jan. 10, Maduro would serve the rest of the current term and then hand over power to Cabello, who must call for an election within 30 days. If Chavez is unable to start his new term Jan. 10 and doesn’t step down, the National Assembly president must determine if the absence is temporary or permanent.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court is open to any constitutional questions that might emerge if Chavez isn’t able to be sworn in for a new six-year term on Jan. 10, Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales said Dec. 20.