Caracas – President Hugo Chávez delegated to Vice President Nicolás Maduro increased administrative duties on a bunch of financial areas, further sparking rumors about the real health condition of the Venezuelan leader.
In a decree issued Wednesday from his hospital bed in Havana, Chávez granted Maduro the power to perform all government functions related to budget management, credit emissions and public appropriations.
The decree also empowers the vice president to appoint deputy ministers, presidents and board members of public entities, as well as to decree expropriations, liquidate agencies, grant pensions and approve tax exempt for some activities.
The announcement came just 48 hours after Maduro reported success in Chávez's recovery, saying that he was already walking and exercising.
Chávez had passed on the duties to Maduro on Dec. 8, three days before the socialist leader underwent cancer-related surgery in Cuba. He has been silent since the operation, raising doubts among Venezuelans regarding his health.
Vice President Maduro surprised Venezuelans with a Christmas Eve announcement that President Hugo Chávez is up and walking, but the news did little to ease uncertainty surrounding the leader's condition.
Sounding giddy, Maduro told state television Venezolana de Television that he had spoken by phone with Chávez for 20 minutes Monday night. It was the first time a top Venezuelan government official had confirmed talking personally with Chávez since the Dec. 11 operation, his fourth cancer surgery since 2011.
"He was in a good mood," Maduro said. "He was walking, he was exercising."
Chávez supporters reacted with relief, but the statement inspired more questions, given the sparse information the Venezuelan government has provided so far about the president's cancer. Chávez has kept secret various details about his illness, including the precise location of the tumors and the type of cancer. His long-term prognosis remains a mystery.
Dr. Michael Pishvaian, an oncologist at Georgetown University's Lombardi Cancer Center in Washington, said the long term outlook remained poor. "The overall prognosis is still pretty poor. He likely has a terminal diagnosis with his cancer that has come back," he said.
Pishvaian and other outside doctors have said that given the details Chávez has provided about his cancer, it is most likely a soft-tissue sarcoma.
Over the weekend, Chávez's ally, Bolivian President Evo Morales, made a lightning visit to Cuba that only added to the uncertainty.
Journalists had been summoned to cover his arrival and departure in Havana, but hours later that invitation was canceled. No explanation was given, though it could have been due to confusion over Morales' itinerary as he apparently arrived later than initially scheduled.
Cuban state media published photos of President Raul Castro receiving Morales at the airport and said he came "to express his support" for Chávez, his close ally, but did not give further details. He left Sunday without making any public comments.
For the second day in a row Tuesday, Morales made no mention of his trip to Cuba during public events in Bolivia.
Yet more questions surround Chávez's political future, with the surgery coming two months after he won re-election to a six-year term.
If he is unable to continue in office, the Venezuelan Constitution calls for new elections to be held. Chávez has asked his followers to back Maduro, his hand-picked successor, in that event.
Venezuelan officials have said Chávez might not return in time for his Jan. 10 inauguration.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.