Ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez signed a decree in Caracas yesterday appointing a new foreign minister, according to the Official Gazette, even as the government gives updates on his recovery from cancer in Cuba.
It was the first decree featuring the president’s signature since Chavez left for the communist island on Dec. 10 for a fourth operation on an undisclosed type of cancer and followed the announcement of Elias Jaua’s appointment as foreign minister by Vice President Nicolas Maduro yesterday.
Chavez’s signature, datelined as Caracas Jan. 15, came after opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski called into question the legality of naming ministers in the president’s absence. The 58-year-old Chavez has been battling a lung infection following last month’s operation that prevented him from attending his own swearing-in ceremony for a new term 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.
“It’s public knowledge, endorsed by the Supreme Court and the National Assembly, that the president is abroad, so the idea that this decree was signed in Caracas lacks credibility,” said Leonardo Palacios, a partner at Palacios, Torres, Crespo & Korody law firm in Caracas and a former opposition lawmaker. “It’s important to respect the procedures laid out by the constitution to ensure legal security. Here that’s not being done.”
The only other decree published since Chavez went to Cuba was unsigned and officially dated Dec. 9, even though it wasn’t published until Dec. 21. The decree delegated some economic powers to Maduro.
Venezuela’s Information Ministry didn’t immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment about whether Chavez is in Caracas.
“If the president can sign decrees, I call on him to speak to Venezuela,” Capriles said today in comments broadcast on Globovision.
The legal ramifications of having the country’s president run affairs from Cuba has been a point of contention between the government and the opposition since Chavez first announced from Cuba that he had a unspecified form of cancer. The opposition argues that Chavez should cede the presidency temporarily while he convalesces.
Before departing for his first round of chemotherapy in July 20011, Chavez said that technology would allow him to run the country from abroad, demonstrating on state television how he could sign laws electronically using a program on a laptop computer.
Opponents “think we’re in the Venezuela of the 16th century and that I’m going to get on a sailboat and spend five days getting to Havana without being able to communicate,” he said. “We live in another world, what some call a global village.”
Maduro said yesterday he returned to Caracas Jan. 14 after paying a bedside visit to Chavez in Havana along with National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez.
“Our comandante is approaching the crest of the hill,” Maduro said of Chavez’s health from Caracas during a meeting of regional governors. “He is advancing.”