Vice president reassures Venezuelans on leadership


CARACAS, Venezuela — Vice President Nicolas Maduro assured fellow Venezuelans that the government was prepared to hold a presidential election within 30 days if ailing President Hugo Chavez is forced to resign, and that a Chavista candidate backed by “revolutionary force” would win overwhelmingly.

Maduro, who is leading the government while Chavez recuperates from cancer surgery in Cuba, made his remarks in an interview with a Spanish news service, the transcript of which was released Friday by the Venezuelan government press office.

“We have sufficiently overwhelming political strength in Venezuela [and] accumulated revolutionary force to confront whatever scenario presents itself,” said Maduro, who met with Chavez in Cuba on Monday to “update him on the various situations in the country.”


Pressed for details of Chavez’s condition by the Spanish interviewer, Maduro said Chavez experienced severe hemorrhaging and respiratory problems during and after his surgery, which he described as “high risk,” and hinted that Chavez may have suffered severe and possibly permanent aftereffects.

“The treatment now is concentrated on overcoming the damages caused by the respiratory insufficiency,” Maduro said.

Nevertheless, Chavez was “quiet, serene and very conscious of the post-operative phases he has passed through,” Maduro said. National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez and Chavez’s brother Adan, the governor of Barinas state, accompanied Maduro.

The vice president’s comments came amid mounting uncertainty about the medical condition of Chavez, who has not been seen or heard from since his Dec. 11 surgery.

Critics have cited the Monday meeting to charge that the seat of Venezuelan government is now in Cuba.

Some constitutional experts have said that unless Chavez can provide proof of life and of his ability to govern, the 58-year-old leader should resign and that a new election should be held. Venezuela’s supreme court ruled early this month that Chavez, who was reelected in October, did not have to be present at his Jan. 10 inauguration to assume his fourth presidential term.

Maduro addressed the concern of many Venezuelans that the government has released sketchy details of Chavez’s medical state because his supporters want to avoid or postpone a new presidential election, seemingly called for by a strict reading of the constitution.

“In the next few days, after meeting with the medical team, there may be a response closer to the reality of how President Chavez’s recovery will go in the next few weeks and when he might be in condition to return to Caracas,” Maduro said.

Chavez’s signature appeared on a decree released Wednesday naming Elias Jaua as foreign minister, but it was unclear whether the president personally signed it or whether it was done mechanically.

Gov. Henrique Capriles of Miranda state, who challenged Chavez in the October election, reacted to the decree by calling on Chavez to present himself to the public.

“If the president is able to sign decrees, then I ask him to appear and explain to Venezuelans what is going on with his government,” Capriles said.

Special correspondents Mogollon and Kraul reported from Caracas and Bogota.