International News

Hugo Chavez Won't Be Sworn In As Venezuela's President On Thursday

Take a deep breath, Doral, Weston, and every other Venezuelan enclave in Miami: As of Thursday, Hugo Chavez will technically no longer be president of your homeland. Chavez's allies confirmed this afternoon that he's not healthy enough to come back from Cuba for his swearing in ceremony on January 10. According to the opposition, that means Chavez won't assume the presidency as his last term ends.

Of course, Chavistas disagree. They argue the inauguration date can be postponed until Chavez is well enough to come back to Caracas.

No one is quite sure what's going to go down on Thursday. Chavez's allies, including his VP, Nicolas Maduro, argue that the constitution gives the option of swearing in at a later date before the Supreme Court.

But Henrique Capriles, the opposition leader who lost to Chavez three months ago, is crying foul. He says the constitution explicitly says the president has to be sworn in on January 10, and has called on the courts to weigh in.

"The Supreme Court has to take a position on what the text of the constitution says," Capriles tells the AP. "There is no monarchy here, and we aren't in Cuba."

One thing is clear: Chavez indeed must be seriously ill in Havana to miss the swearing in. The government claims he's "stable" but admits he's suffering a "severe respiratory infection."

If he's unable to come back to Venezuela in the long term, Chavez has apparently endorsed a plan for Diosdado Cabello, the chairman of the National Assembly, to temporarily take power until his handpicked successor, Maduro, can call for new elections.

As for Thursday, we'll all have to wait and see what happens in Caracas. All we know for sure is that Chavez himself won't be there.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink