With Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ailing and absent, Venezuela’s leftist government was to launch a new presidential term yesterday with a display of popular support on the day he was to be inaugurated.
Leaders of other leftist Latin American governments also began arriving in Caracas to pay tribute to Chavez, 58, who has not been seen in public since he underwent cancer surgery a month ago in Havana.
“Tomorrow we’re going to have a grand event in homage of President Chavez. We are all going to swear in everyone with this constitution,” Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on Wednesday.
The military announced it was reinforcing security in the city and at other strategic points to ensure the day was observed peacefully.
The Supreme Court cleared Chavez to indefinitely postpone his re-inauguration and said his existing administration could remain in office until he is well enough to take the oath.
It was the last legal hurdle to a government plan for resolving the vacuum created by Chavez’s illness that met fierce resistance from the opposition, which had argued it was unconstitutional.
On Wednesday, Henrique Capriles, who ran unsuccessfully against Chavez in the presidential elections in October last year, accepted the unanimous ruling as “binding,” but said it did not end the uncertainties facing the country.
“Now the ruling has been handed down. There is an interpretation by the Supreme Court,” Capriles said before shifting his aim to Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor. “The excuses are over, Mr Maduro. Now it falls to you to assume the responsibility of the office and to govern.”
Meanwhile, Maduro welcomed the court ruling as “a sentence for peace, for justice, for stability” and invited Venezuelans to turn out for a huge rally yesterday in support of the absent Chavez.
He also highlighted the expressions of support he had received from other leaders, including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica was the first foreign president to arrive for yesterday’s planned show of support.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and foreign ministers Hector Timerman of Argentina and Ricardo Patino of Ecuador also confirmed their attendance.
Capriles, who had urged Latin leaders not to attend what was a political event, said he was pleased that most presidents from the region were not coming.
After days of suspense, the government confirmed on Tuesday that Chavez was too sick to return to Caracas for his scheduled swearing-in.
With a show of hands, the Chavez-controlled assembly approved the open-ended absence of the president, who has dominated the country personally and politically since coming to power in 1999.
The top court’s seven magistrates — all appointed by the Chavez-controlled National Assembly — unanimously ruled on Wednesday that the delay was constitutional.
Venezuelan Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales, who read out the decision, also ruled out convening a medical board to assess the health of the president.
The charter says new elections must be held within 30 days if the president-elect or president dies, or is permanently incapacitated, either before he takes office or in the first four years of his six-year term.