Venezuelan president says he is going back to Havana to begin “the second phase” that will include chemotherapy.
Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, has delegated some powers to his vice-president and the finance minister, a day after announcing he will return to Cuba to begin a new phase of cancer treatment.
Shortly after a legislative vote approving his trip, Chavez announced on Saturday that he would hand off some responsibilities.
“I am going to delegate some decisions that until now were mine, signatures and decisions, to vice president Elias Jaua and Jorge Giordani,” he said during a televised cabinet meeting.
Chavez, who left for Cuba to receive chemotherapy, said doctors have found no more malignant cells in his body following cancer surgery earlier.
Opponents say it is impossible for Chavez to effectively govern the OPEC nation of 29 million people from a Cuban hospital bed.
“When the president leaves the country, the vice-president must assume the chief executive role. It is their duty,” said Hiram Gaviria, an opposition legislator.
“The health of the country must be put above the president’s health. We must be serious. We believe he should not hold office from Havana,” added Carlos Berrizbeitia, another opposition legislator.
Chavez, 56, has rebuffed calls from the opposition to hand over temporarily the presidency to Jaua, but gave him and Jorge Giordani, the finance minister, powers that include budgetary matters.
The president, who had a large tumour removed last month in Cuba, said on Friday he was going back to Havana to begin what “we’ve called the second phase”. It will include chemotherapy.
He announced his plans on Friday after meeting Ollanta Humala, the Peruvian president-elect.
Earlier this month, Chavez admitted in a television address that he had a tumour but had undergone a successful operation in Cuba to extract the cancerous cells.
This was his first televised speech to the nation, weeks after he was hospitalised in Havana, sparking widespread speculation about his health.
“They confirmed the existence of a tumourous abscess, with the presence of cancerous cells, which required another operation to extract the tumour completely,” he had said.
Barely two days after the speech from Cuba, Chavez arrived at Maiquetia airport outside Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, as the country was preparing to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its independence from Spain.
Addressing his supporters from the balcony of his presidential palace, Chavez vowed to win the battle to regain his health.
He thanked Fidel Castro, the former Cuban president, saying that the veteran leader has been practically his “medical chief” while recovering in Cuba. He said he will “win this battle for life”.
Chavez’s announcement that he had cancer shocked his supporters and upended the nation’s politics, which he has dominated for 12 years.
It raised questions about whether Chavez will be able to run for re-election next year. He had been warming up for a bid for another six-year term when the illness struck.
He is still the only declared candidate for the election but questions inevitably will be asked about his fitness to run in light of his illness.
At the very least, his campaign will be shorter and more subdued than he would like. At worst, he may be forced to drop out.
Meanwhile, the front-runner to face Chavez in next year’s election said on Saturday a corruption investigation ordered by the country’s senior judge showed the government feared his growing popularity.
“The government is terrified of what we represent – the future,” Capriles told the Reuters news agency. “These smoke screens demonstrate the fear they have that there will be a change.”
Capriles said the allegations, which were first made two years ago by an activist in Chavez’s Socialist Party, were ridiculous.
The government has previously excluded popular candidates from running in elections during Chavez’s government.
Chavez was rushed into emergency surgery on June 10, and news about his health has been a matter of great speculation. Even close aides have little clue about the seriousness of his disease.
He has not said what type of cancer he has or for how long he will be out of the country.