Vice President Nicolas Maduro stood in for President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday to give Venezuela’s State of the Nation address amid legal debates about the move, necessitated by the fact that Chavez is still in Cuba following cancer surgery last month -- the fourth in less than two years.
The address was brief, with Maduro telling a gathering of state governors and top government officials earlier in the day, “Our commander is climbing the hill, he’s advancing, and that fills us with great happiness.” He added his gratitude to the medical team treating the president, without offering details about Chavez’s condition, and noting only that he is “in battle.”
By law, Chavez – re-elected to another six-year term in October – should have been the one to deliver the address. His inauguration has been indefinitely postponed, another action deemed to be legally murky at best.
During past treatments, Chavez has addressed the nation by telephone from the hospital. Concern is now growing among politicians as well as the nation’s populace over whether Chavez will be well enough to return to lead the country – or whether a new election must be held.
The charismatic Venezuelan president hasn’t been heard from since the December 11 operation to remove another malignant growth in the same pelvic area where the original tumor was located. Officials have cited a “respiratory deficiency” following the operation as the reason for the silence.
Opposition politician Geraldo Blyde, a Venezuelan constitutional expert, told the pan-Arab Al Jazeera news network that Tuesday’s address should have been postponed.
“Only an acting president can personally present the report,” according to the constitution, he said.