Venezuela Opposition Warns of Anarchy If Chavez Misses Oath

Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski said the country runs the risk of plunging into “anarchy” if cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez fails to be sworn in this week for another term.

Capriles said that the government’s plan for Chavez to remain in power past Jan. 10, when he’s scheduled to take the oath before Congress, violates the constitution and several of Venezuela’s international commitments. He said it’s up to the Supreme Court to enforce the charter’s clauses requiring National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello to take power on a caretaker basis until Chavez recovers or an election is held.

“This isn’t a monarchy,” Capriles said during a news conference in Caracas in which he held out the prospect of street violence and an army uprising if the constitution is breached. “A wrong decision by the Supreme Court, far from guaranteeing peace and tranquility, could lead to anarchy instead.”

Chavez’s difficult recovery from cancer surgery in Cuba is pushing Venezuela toward a constitutional showdown, with the opposition balking at the government’s claim that this week’s swearing-in ceremony is a mere formality that can be delayed.

Yields on Venezuela’s benchmark 9.25 percent bonds due in 2027 rose 20 basis points, or 0.20 percentage point, to 9.26 percent at 2:37 p.m. in Caracas after the government said Chavez would remain in power even if he can’t be sworn in for a new term. The price fell 1.57 cents to 99.93 cents on the dollar after reaching 104.14 cents Jan. 3, the highest since 2008.

Capriles, who lost to Chavez in October by 11 percentage points, said that if the normally pro-government high court doesn’t enforce the constitution, then the opposition will appeal for mediation from regional powers such as Brazil and Colombia as well as international tribunals. He called on regional leaders not to side with a particular political party and instead insist that the government respect Venezuelan law.

“We must avoid at all costs a conflict,” said Capriles, adding that some members of the armed forces are prepared to take action to resolve the impending political crisis. “I’ve spoken with military officials who aren’t affiliated with a political party and they said they will make sure the constitution is enforced.”

Government Position

Cabello, sitting alongside Vice President Nicolas Maduro, said yesterday that Chavez will remain in power even if he doesn’t show up for the scheduled swearing-in ceremony, saying he has no intention of assuming power on a caretaker basis while the socialist leader recovers in a Havana hospital.

Such a move violates Venezuela’s constitution as well as the Inter-American Democratic Charter, to which the country is a signatory, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, head of the opposition alliance, wrote in a letter today to the Washington-based Organization of American States.

Capriles said that Maduro’s term as vice president ceases with the end of Chavez’s mandate on Jan. 10, meaning any decisions he makes while running the government after that date could be considered illegal.

Yesterday, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said that Chavez’s condition remains “stationary” after the government reported he had trouble breathing as a result of a respiratory infection following surgery a month ago in Cuba.

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