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CARACAS: Venezuela’s newly appointed foreign minister said yesterday the decree that installed him in office is proof that ailing President Hugo Chavez is still in control of the oil-rich country.
Elias Jaua was named in a decree signed by Chavez, who remains gravely ill in a Havana hospital some five weeks after complications arose during his fourth round of cancer surgery.
“If I am the foreign minister, it is because President Chavez is governing and making decisions,” Jaua told a Colombian
The decree has been heavily criticised by Venezuela’s opposition, who have cited its publication in Venezuela’s official government gazette as further reason to demand that the absent president clarify how sick he is and what he can and cannot do.
The decree — number 9,351 — was marked “Caracas” and carries the signature of Chavez, who underwent surgery in Cuba on December 11 and has not been seen in public for more than a month.
Opposition lawmaker Carlos Berrizbeitia weighed in on the dispute on Thursday, stating there was “reasonable doubt” about whether the signature on the decree was genuine and demanding the government release the original document.
“It is not possible that the president has signed the decree... in Caracas, because everyone knows he is in Havana,” Berrizbeitia told local media. Meanwhile, Vice President Nicolas Maduro — handpicked by Chavez as his political heir — urged the opposition to make a public apology for talking about the signature’s “falsehood.” The Venezuelan government has been releasing only minimal information on the condition of Chavez.