President Hugo Chavez won’t be able to attend his scheduled swearing-in this week, Venezuela’s government announced Tuesday, confirming suspicions that the leader’s illness will keep him in a Cuban hospital past the key date.
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello made the announcement during a legislative session while reading a letter from Vice President Nicolas Maduro.
Tensions between the government and opposition have been building in a constitutional dispute over whether the ailing president’s swearing-in can legally be postponed. The president underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery in Cuba last month and hasn’t spoken publicly in a month.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said earlier Tuesday that the Supreme Court should rule in the disagreement between the opposition and Chavez’s government. He said the constitution is clear that the current presidential term ends on Jan. 10.
Other opposition leaders have argued that the inauguration cannot legally be put off and that the National Assembly president should take over as interim president if Chavez hasn’t returned from Cuba on inauguration day.
“The Supreme Court has to take a position on what the text of the constitution says,” said Capriles, who lost to Chavez in presidential elections three months ago. “There is no monarchy here, and we aren’t in Cuba.”
While leaders of both pro- and anti-Chavez camps say they don’t expect violence to break out Thursday, the dispute could lead to opposition questions about the legitimacy of government officials serving past the scheduled inauguration date.