By FABIOLA SANCHEZ
Venezuela’s government says President Hugo Chavez is in a “stable situation” receiving treatment due to a severe respiratory infection.
The government provided its latest update on Monday night.
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said the government is in “permanent contact” with Chavez’s medical team and relatives who are with him.
He didn’t give details but said that Chavez’s treatment is being applied “constantly and rigorously.”
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Venezuela are warning that the country’s stability is at risk due to growing tensions surrounding President Hugo Chavez’s long absence after cancer surgery in Cuba.
Catholic leaders in the Venezuelan Bishops Conference said on Monday that conflicting stances by the government and opposition ahead of Chavez’s scheduled swearing-in for a new term on Thursday make for a potentially dangerous and violent situation.
Catholic leaders also criticized the government for failing to provide more details about Chavez’s condition nearly a month after his operation. “The government hasn’t told the nation all of the truth,” Padron said.
Government officials have called Chavez’s condition delicate and say he’s been fighting a severe respiratory infection. Chavez hasn’t spoken publicly since before the Dec. 11 surgery. Since then, government officials have provided regular updates but no details of his complications.
Chavez describes himself as Christian but has clashed repeatedly with Catholic leaders, who have accused the president in recent years of becoming increasingly authoritarian.
The Venezuelan Constitution says the presidential oath should be taken before lawmakers in the National Assembly on Jan. 10, this Thursday. It says the president may also take the oath before the Supreme Court if he’s unable to be sworn in before the assembly.
Some opposition leaders have argued that Chavez’s allies would violate the constitution if they try to put off the inauguration.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro has called the swearing-in a “formality” and said the opposition is erroneously interpreting the constitution.
Catholic leaders agreed with the opposition’s arguments on Monday, saying the constitution is clear that one presidential term ends and another begins on Jan. 10.
The opposition announced over the weekend that it intends to raise its objections in international forums if Chavez’s allies violate the constitution. But it remains unclear what the opposition intends to do if Chavez doesn’t show up on inauguration day.
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello warned the opposition not to try to stir up trouble. Speaking to reporters alongside Maduro on Monday, he called for the government’s supporters to demonstrate in the streets of Caracas on Thursday.
Cabello also said at a news conference that some foreign leaders would soon visit Venezuela to express solidarity with Chavez. He didn’t give details or identify the presidents.
But Cabello also avoided saying whether the inauguration was definitely being put off. Asked if the government now rules out Chavez being able to make it back on time for the inauguration, Cabello said: “We don’t rule out absolutely anything at all.”
Maduro reiterated the government’s view that Chavez may be sworn in before the Supreme Court at a later date. Referring to the Catholic Church’s leaders, Maduro said he hopes they “maintain a conduct of respect.”
Constitutional expert Roman Duque Corredor, a former Supreme Court magistrate, said the constitution is clear that Chavez’s inauguration cannot legally be postponed.
Duque told The Associated Press he believes the Supreme Court should now form a board of doctors to determine the president’s condition.
Marco Aurelio Garcia, the top international affairs adviser to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, visited Havana last week to obtain information about Chavez’s health but said he was told that Chavez wasn’t receiving visitors. Garcia told reporters on Monday in Brasilia he was told that Chavez is in a “grave state,” according to Brazil’s state news agency.
Garcia said he doesn’t see political instability as likely in Venezuela, and that if Chavez is unable to return to Venezuela a temporary absence would be permitted for a total of up to 180 days under the constitution before it would be considered an absolute absence and require the calling of a new election.
Some opposition politicians have also said it’s time for a medical team to travel to Havana to determine whether Chavez is fit to remain in office or not.
She said it’s difficult to grasp why Chavez’s allies would want to delay new elections instead of taking advantage of public sympathy surrounding Chavez’s condition now. But she said it might be that Chavez’s confidants think it fitting for him to die as president and not have to leave office.
Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program at the Wilson Center, said there also could be more practical political calculus at play.
Opposition lawmaker Julio Borges said that Chavez’s political lieutenants have turned to a convoluted interpretation of the constitution for their political aims while they hold sway in the president’s absence.
Associated Press writer Luis Alonso Lugo in Washington contributed to this report.