San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Venezuela's Chávez swearing in could be delayed by illness

CARACAS – Venezuela’s ruling party and an opposition leader were in rare agreement on Monday that President Hugo Chávez’s January 10 inauguration could be delayed if he is still recovering from cancer surgery.

The firebrand leftist leader is experiencing a “slight improvement” in his condition as he follows doctors’ orders to rest following his most recent operation in Cuba, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said.

Speaking in a radio and television address, Villegas said the president is in touch with his closest relatives and has been analyzing the results of regional elections on December 16, in which the ruling party won 20 of 23 governorships, snatching four states previously held by the opposition.

Chávez, 58, has been in power since 1999. He won another six-year term in October’s presidential election, and is scheduled to be sworn in on January 10, but his health has raised concerns over the future of his leftist movement.

Officials have never disclosed the type or severity of Chávez’s cancer, which was first diagnosed in June 2011, and he only designated a successor — Vice President Nicolás Maduro — earlier this month.

Maduro said Monday that Chávez could be sworn in by Supreme Court justices, which could pave the way for an oath from Cuba, where the president is recovering from his latest cancer treatment.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said he was ready to accept a possible delay in the inauguration.

“If the president cannot be present on January 10 to take the oath of office before the National Assembly, the constitution has the answers,” said Capriles, who lost the presidential election in October to Chavez.

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