Skip to main content

Venezuelan VP slams opponents, says Chavez 'fighting for his health'

By Melissa Gray and Marilia Brochetto, CNN
updated 11:16 AM EST, Sat January 5, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Opposition leader says Venezuelans are united
  • The Venezuelan vice president says Chavez is "fighting for his health"
  • The VP accuses the opposition of manipulating the situation and trying to steal power
  • The VP urges a national debate over what the constitution says

(CNN) -- Venezuela's vice president says President Hugo Chavez is "fighting for his health" after cancer surgery, and he slammed the opposition for trying to take advantage of the situation and steal power.

Nicolas Maduro gave no other details about Chavez's condition in an interview Friday night on state television.

Chavez, 58, has not been seen in public since arriving in Cuba for his fourth cancer operation more than three weeks ago, which has fueled speculation that his health is worse than the government is letting on.

Thursday, a government spokesman said Chavez was battling a severe lung infection that has caused respiratory failure. Ernesto Villegas said the president was following a strict treatment regimen for "respiratory insufficiency" caused by the infection.

What happens if Chavez doesn't return?
Chavez suffers more complications
Hugo Chavez announces his cancer is back

How Venezuela is coping with uncertain times

The president's illness has cast doubt on whether he will be able to be inaugurated next week for his fourth term. There is debate over what the constitution requires for a president to take the oath of office in this circumstance.

If Chavez is unable to be sworn in before lawmakers on January 10 as scheduled, the constitution says Chavez can be sworn in before the country's Supreme Court. But the wording of the constitution isn't clear on whether the inauguration before the Supreme Court must happen January 10, whether it must occur inside the country, and who should run Venezuela in the meantime.

Fast facts on Hugo Chavez

Holding up a copy of Chavez's "Little Blue Book," a small copy of the constitution, Maduro said Friday the opposition is trying to manipulate the wording of the constitution to allow them to take power.

He said opposition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo sent a letter to Venezuela's ambassadors around the world saying that if Chavez cannot go to the inauguration, power should go to the president of the National Assembly for 30 days.

Maduro said that reading of the constitution is false, and that the swearing-in date is flexible. He urged a national debate to determine what the constitution actually says.

"Let's have this conversation with the people so that the Venezuelans (can determine it) themselves," Maduro said on state-run VTV.

Socialist Hugo Chavez and his rise to power

He asked all Venezuelans to read their copy of the constitution and "make their own interpretations about the spirit of our constitution and what it establishes."

Maduro said supporters of the government will protect the constitution "with strength from the streets."

The vice president and another top Chavez ally accused opposition leaders Thursday of organizing a campaign to spread rumors about the Venezuelan president's health.

Standing side by side on the floor of a coffee factory in Caracas, Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello sharply criticized the opposition in remarks broadcast on VTV.

"Don't fall victim to the opposition's rumors. ... They have bad intentions every time they talk," Cabello said.

Maduro said opposition claims that officials have been withholding information are baseless, noting that authorities had released dozens of communiques about Chavez's health in the past 22 days.

Another opposition leader denied Friday there are divisions among Venezuelans.

"These pseudo-governors of the government will not change our feelings of solidarity with their hate," Henrique Capriles Radonski, who ran against Chavez in October's presidential election, wrote on Twitter. "The vast majority of Venezuelans are characterized by solidarity."

CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT