Venezuelan vice president Nicolas Maduro took the place of the country’s ailing leader by delivering a short
state-of-the-nation address amid legal debate about his legitimacy.
Maduro submitted the report in writing from ailing president Hugo Chavez, who is receiving treatment in Cuba after undergoing his fourth cancer surgery.
Opposition politicians had argued that lawmakers should have postponed the annual speech because Chavez was supposed to deliver it.
Last January, Chavez spoke for nine hours before lawmakers even as he was undergoing cancer treatments.
Venezuelan constitutional expert Geraldo Blyde, a politician who sides with the opposition, said lawmakers should have postponed Tuesday’s event. He cited sections of the nation’s constitution stating that “only an acting president can personally present the report.”
Energy minister Rafael Ramirez rejected the opposition’s allegations that the government was acting illegally by going ahead with the special legislative session. “There’s no constitutional controversy,” he told reporters.
Reelected in October, Chavez has not made any public comments since his latest cancer surgery December 11.
He has been fighting an unspecified type of pelvic cancer, and his long silence has fed speculation about why he has not addressed the country by phone on television, as he did during past treatments in Cuba.
Government officials have said Chavez is being treated for “respiratory deficiency.”
Officials have indefinitely postponed Chavez’s inauguration despite complaints by the opposition that the move was unconstitutional.
Earlier on Tuesday, Maduro said Chavez has been making progress in his treatment for a severe respiratory infection and asked questions of his aides during a visit on Monday.
Maduro said he and other officials provided Chavez with an update on “the government in a new stage” and other matters.
“He asked our friend Rafael Ramirez about [certain] aspects” of the government, Maduro said in a televised meeting with state governors. “Our commander is climbing the hill, he’s advancing, and that fills us with great happiness,” he said.
Maduro expressed gratitude to Chavez’s medical team but didn’t give details, saying only that Chavez “is in battle.”
During the state-of-the-nation speech, Maduro said Chavez designated former vice president Elias Jaua as the country’s new foreign minister.
Maduro made his comments about Chavez’s health on Tuesday at a gathering of state governors in Caracas after returning from Cuba along with Ramirez, attorney general Cilia Flores and National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello.
The governors who attended included Chavez’s elder brother, Adan, other allied politicians and top opposition leader Henrique Capriles and two other opposition governors.