Chavez in Cuban Hospital as Maduro Gives 7-Minute Speech

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez continues fighting for his health in a Cuban hospital for a second month, leaving the delivery of the annual state of the union address today to Vice President Nicolas Maduro.

Chavez, who last year spoke for more than nine hours as he sought to show that cancer wouldn’t affect his ability to campaign for re-election, hasn’t been seen or heard from since he stepped off an airplane in Havana on Dec. 10 to undergo a fourth surgery. By contrast, Maduro, in a speech that lasted just seven minutes, named his predecessor Elias Jaua as foreign minister and left the podium.

“On a solemn day like this it doesn’t correspond for a simple vice president to be standing here,” Maduro said. “End of this report.”

The 58-year-old Chavez has been battling a lung infection following his operation last month that prevented him from attending his own swearing-in ceremony Jan. 10. The Supreme Court said the inauguration could be delayed, leaving Chavez’s handpicked successor Maduro to run affairs in South America’s biggest oil exporter. The opposition has called the move a violation of the constitution.

Chavez last month urged Venezuelans to vote for the 50-year-old Maduro in new elections should he lose his battle with cancer. Maduro said earlier today that he saw the president yesterday in Havana along with national assembly head Diosdado Cabello, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez and other leaders. It was the second meeting of Chavez’s top ministers in Cuba in two weeks.

Capriles Reaction

Maduro’s naming Jaua as foreign minister should come under review given that cabinet appointments are the president’s domain, Henrique Capriles Radonski, who lost to Chavez by 11 percentage points in October, said in an e-mailed statement.

“The vice president should clarify whether he is acting as interim president or as vice president, as the government continually refers to him,” Capriles, who is governor of Miranda state, said in the statement. “The only way a minister can be designated is by a decree from the president.”

Climbing the Hill

“Our comandante is approaching the crest of the hill,” Maduro said from Caracas during a meeting of regional governors. “He is advancing.”

The government’s benchmark 2027 dollar bond rose 0.38 cent to 99.38 cents on the dollar today, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The bond’s yield fell 5 basis points, or 0.05 percentage point, to 9.33 percent.

Maduro today rejected charges on social media that Venezuela has become a “colony” of Cuba, saying that the Caribbean island has the best scientists and doctors to treat the ailing Chavez. The government hasn’t disclosed the kind of cancer Chavez is suffering from.

“There are those who say we’re a colony of Cuba,” Maduro said. “That’s offensive to Cuba and Venezuela. We won our independence and liberty.”

Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said Jan. 13 that Chavez’s health has been improving even as he receives “specific measures” to aid with breathing problems following a lung infection.

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