Venezuela's opposition demanded on Wednesday (January 02) the government tell the truth about the health of President Hugo Chavez, who is suffering from complications after his fourth cancer surgery that have all but ruled out his return for a January 10 inauguration.
Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's vice president and anointed successor, has said he will be forthright about the ailing leader's health.
But while officials have acknowledged the usually garrulous former soldier's health is delicate, they have offered scant details on his condition.
The government has never said what kind of cancer Chavez has, nor have they been clear about how they intend to proceed if Chavez can't take his post on January 10.
Opposition leaders met in Caracas Wednesday, where Ramon Aveledo, the head of the opposition Democratic Unity coalition, said the government was keeping the country in the dark.
"Nothing excuses the government from giving the information if must give. The vice president himself has said he is committed to telling the truth whatever that may be. Well, he should tell the truth about the president's health because that is what will give the country the security and certainty that it needs," he said.
Maduro said he was returning to Venezuela after spending several days alongside Chavez and members of the president's family. That may help squelch rumours his visit was a sign that the former soldier was near death.
"On January 10, a new constitutional period begins. If the president shows up, well he showed up. If the president doesn't show up the president of the national assembly temporarily assumes the presidency," Aveledo added.
Chavez was reelected October 11 with 55 percent of the popular vote, but the opposition thinks they will have a better chance of beating Maduro in a new election.
But Socialist Party officials have suggested the ceremony could be delayed if he were unable to return in time, and Chavez-supporters in Caracas seem fine with that.
"It's not important if he can take over his post now. He can come back a few days later. The important thing is the life and the health of the president," said one man named David.
But others like Mario Ospino feel the president's health struggles already warrant a new leader.
"When the president is sick, what the country has to look at is if he can't continue then there must a be a replacement who also behaves well, who is a good president. Because that's what we want as a
country-- we want the situation to get better because it's bad and rather difficult," Ospino said.
Chavez's abrupt exit from the political scene would be a shock for Venezuela, where his oil-financed socialism has made him a hero to the poor majority but a nemesis to critics who call him a dictator.