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Venezuela's Chavez Delegates Some Powers To Vice-President

12/27/2012 6:16 AM ET

Cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has delegated some of his administrative duties and powers to his Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, according to a presidential decree published on the government's official gazette on Wednesday.

The powers delegated to Maduro under the decree allows him to take certain decisions related to national budget and expropriations, including the disbursements of extra-budgetary funds with the approval of the National Congress, direct disbursements to Ministries and carry out government seizures of private assets in line with Chavez's nationalization program.

The developments come a day after Maduro said on national television that he had spoken with Chavez over the phone, and added that the President was currently walking and doing exercises as part of his treatment.

Notably, there has been no word from Chavez after he underwent a six-hour surgical procedure for removing cancerous cells in the Cuban capital Havana on December 11. It was his fourth cancer-related surgery after being first diagnosed with the disease last year.

Ahead of his latest surgery, Chavez was re-elected as the Latin American country's President for a fourth consecutive six-year term in October, defeating his lone rival Henrique Capriles by a margin of nearly ten percentage points. He is due to be sworn in on January 10.

Doubts about Chavez's ability to lead the oil-exporting nation after his latest surgery has prompted Opposition calls for re-election in Venezuela. But National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello has ruled out new elections even if Chavez is unable to be sworn in on January 10.

"The date of 10 January does not determine the President-elect's absolute absence. Since Chavez might not be here on 10 January, the Opposition hopes the National Assembly will call elections. That's not going to happen. Commandante Hugo Chavez will continue to be our President," Cabello told reporters on Sunday.

In case of sudden death or incapacitation of the President, the Venezuelan Constitution stipulates that the Vice-President must assume presidency until new elections can be held. The charter also states that fresh elections must be held within 30 days if the President leaves office in the first four years of his term.

It now appears that Chavez is most likely miss his December 10 inauguration ceremony because of his illness and continued treatment in Cuba. If that is the case, then it is up to National Assembly President to determine whether Chavez's absence is temporary or absolute. If his absence is found to be absolute, Cabello is required to call elections within 30 days.

Ahead of traveling to Cuba for the latest surgery, Chavez had promoted his Defense Minister Diego Molero to the rank of Admiral-in-Chief, and named his Vice-President Maduro as his preferred successor if "something were to happen that would incapacitate" him.

Prior to the presidential race, Chavez had been shuttling between Venezuela and Cuba after he underwent an initial surgery in Havana on June 20, 2011 to remove a cancerous tumor in the pelvic area. He later underwent another surgery in February to remove a lesion found in the same place where the tumor was extracted previously. He has also undergone four rounds of chemotherapy, three of which were in Cuba.

The maverick socialist has been ruling Venezuela since 1998 after winning consecutive elections. He has considerable support in his home country, mainly due to the massive government spending on social programs targeting the poor. He has already nationalized several key sectors of the oil-rich nation's economy as part of his socialist agenda.

Notably, the Opposition parties made major inroads into the ruling party's strongholds in last year's parliamentary elections, denying it a crucial two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. Nevertheless, Chavez's Socialist Party dominated the country's gubernatorial elections held earlier this month, winning the governorships in nearly all but three of the country's 23 states.

by RTT Staff Writer

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