Can Hugo Chavez govern Venezuela from Cuba?

Reuters , Thursday 16 Jun 2011

Opposition in Venezuela lunches offensive on resident Hugo Chavez, after he approved a law while he is abroad having a surgery in Cuba

Opposition lawmakers were angered Wednesday that President Hugo Chavez enacted a law from Cuba, arguing that his absence was unconstitutional and that he could not govern from abroad.

The 56-year-old Venezuelan leader arrived in Cuba on June 8 on the final leg of a trip authorized by the National Assembly that also included Brazil and Ecuador.

He was rushed into emergency surgery last Friday after suffering sharp pain that was diagnosed as a pelvic abscess that required immediate surgery.

Chavez is reportedly recovering well, though the government has given no date for his return to Caracas.

Opposition legislators, who control 40 percent of Venezuela's single-chamber legislature, argue that his prolonged absence means that Vice President Elias Jaua should replace him.

They traded insults with pro-Chavez lawmakers, who insisted -- as government loyalist Iris Varela put it -- that Chavez does not stop being president "even if he's on the Moon, or in Beijing."

Another legislator, constitutional scholar Carlos Escarra, said it was "absurd" to claim that the president could not govern simply because he was abroad.

According to Venezuela's constitution, the National Assembly must authorize any presidential trip abroad lasting more than five days, and any "temporary absences" of up to 90 days are filled by the vice president.

Escarra said the government is complying with the constitution because the legislature authorized his trip abroad.

Opposition lawmakers, however, demanded that a "temporary absence" be declared and that the vice president replace Chavez.

The president "cannot govern from abroad," said lawmaker Omar Barboza, who was especially angered over the measure that Chavez signed into law from Havana.

It is "absolutely irregular to enact laws from abroad," said Enrique Sanchez Falcon, a professor of constitutional law at the Central University of Venezuela. "The vice president should temporarily take over," he told AFP.

"Venezuela has been humiliated because either it is governed by Chavez from Cuba or by (Cuban leader) Fidel (Castro)," charged opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado.

Communist Cuba is Chavez's staunchest ally in the region. Eventually the National Assembly authorized Chavez to stay in Cuba "until he is in condition to return."

A pelvic abscess is a pus-filled cavity normally caused by an infection. Treatment usually involves a surgical drainage and dead tissue removal, experts said. Most patients are able to walk within 24 hours after surgery, however, they often experience some discomfort for several days, according to experts.

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