The Venezuelan Supreme Court has decided to give ailing president Hugo Chavez as much time as he needs to recover and return to Caracas. The swearing-in ceremony for Chavez’s new term had been scheduled — as per the country’s constitution — for tomorrow. But Venezuela’s Congress voted to postpone it indefinitely as Chavez is still too sick to travel from Cuba where he underwent emergency surgery last month. That means vice president Nicolas Maduro is in charge and the BBC’s Sarah Grainger in Caracas said it’s not clear whether a new election will be scheduled in the near future.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH-Boston. It’s okay to postpone the swearing-in of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for a new term. That’s what the head of Venezuela’s Supreme Court said today. The swearing-in had been scheduled, as per the country’s constitution, for tomorrow. But Venezuela’s congress voted to postpone it indefinitely as Chavez continues to be too sick to travel from Cuba, where he underwent emergency cancer surgery last month. The BBC’s Sarah Grainger is in Caracas. So it sounds like Chavez can take as much time as he wants now. What happens next?
Sarah Grainger: Well, the Supreme Court in its ruling said that a date would be fixed for the inauguration once the issue of Mr. Chavez’s health had been resolved. And as you’ve said, the National Assembly has given him essentially an infinite amount of time to recover from his latest surgery. So essentially now it’s a waiting game to see when and if he does make it back from Cuba, and if he’s able to take up his duties as president again.
Werman: So Sarah, does that leave Vice President Nicolas Maduro in charge also for an indefinite period of time?
Grainger: It does, the Supreme Court essentially leaving the status quo in place. So Nicolas Maduro as vice president is acting as president in Mr. Chavez’s absence. Obviously other members of the ministers in the Socialist party having a large input. The leader of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, also a key figure, but Mr. Maduro essentially, nominally running the country at the moment.
Werman: Wouldn’t it be better for the ruling party to just conduct a quick election now, so the chosen one, Nicolas Maduro, anointed by Chavez, can get elected and continue the Chavez legacy?
Grainger: Well, we don’t know all the details about President Chavez’s ill health and his condition. One assumes that the fact that they’re holding out to give him this opportunity to come back suggests that they think that might be a possibility. The other thing to remember is that Mr. Chavez is such a powerful figure, he’s such a charismatic person, such an important figure for the socialist party, that they’ll be very reluctant to admit or to accept that his period of serving as president over. So I think they’re trying to keep things as they are and give him as much time as possible to see if he can come back and continue as president. Having said that, Mr. Chavez has been absent now for almost a month, and not just absent, he’s been silent. We’ve heard nothing from him, we’ve seen nothing of him. And so, in other scenarios in other countries, perhaps, that might be time enough, given that he’s suffering obviously some severe health problems, to start thinking about a transition and to start thinking about at least an interim president rather than just having the vice president acting up.
Werman: Sarah, what have you heard on this from the opposition at this point?
Grainger: Well really, they’ve run out of options of things to do within Venezuela. The Supreme Court and the National Assembly are the two institutions that really had a say in this and it was obvious from fairly early on that they were going to side with the government. I mean, you know, the socialist party has a majority in the National Assembly so no surprise when they voted to give Mr. Chavez more time to recover and postpone the inauguration. The opposition has made moves already to contact the Organization of American States to appeal to them. I think obviously international relations, looking at other governments in the region perhaps for support for their cause is really the only option they have open at the moment. But the OAS doesn’t have a very good relationship with Mr. Chavez’s government and it’s hard to see the government here changing its stance just because it comes under some pressure from governments who are sympathetic to the opposition’s cause.
Werman: The BBC’s Sarah Grainger in Caracas. Thank you.
Grainger: Thank you.
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