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Chavez can’t be sworn in but remains president

Under Venezuela’s constitution, Hugo Chavez was to be sworn in today for another term as president. But with Chavez having disappeared from public view since he entered a Cuban hospital last month, and perhaps lingering at death’s door, the country’s compliant Supreme Court has agreed to a postponement.

“Right now we cannot say when, how or where the president will be sworn in,” Supreme Court Chief Judge Luisa Morales told a news conference.

“As president re-elect there is no interruption of performance of duties … The inauguration can be carried out at a later date before the Supreme Court.”

The decision opens the door in theory for Chavez to remain in office for weeks or months more from a Cuban hospital bed – though there is no evidence he is even conscious.

He seems incapable of even signing a letter. But the government has been stingy on providing details since he first began treatment for an unspecified cancer two years ago.

It leaves the South American country in the hands of Vice President Nicolas Maduro, as de facto leader of the government.

The opposition say that is a brazen violation of the constitution, and that Maduro should leave office on Thursday when the current presidential term had been due to expire.

They say National Assembly boss Diosdado Cabello, another powerful Chavez ally, should take over the running of the country while new elections would be organized within 30 days.

I won’t attempt to adjudicate a dispute over Venezuela’s constitution– you can read the relevant articles and decide for yourself. But it’s revealing that, as Francisco Toro of Caracas Chronicles reports, the government has accused the independent TV station Globovision of “inciting hatred, uncertainty and an alteration of public order” for daring to quote from Article 231 of the constitution.

The UK’s Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (which holds an “emergency meeting” tonight) has declared that any disagreement with the court is part of a “right-wing destabilisation” effort.

Update: In place of Chavez being sworn in, de facto president Maduro administered an oath to “the people” in which “the people” pledged their “absolute loyalty to the leadership of Commander Hugo Chavez.”