Venezuelan VP delivers State of the Nation address in Chavez's place
Nicolas Maduro’s speech took place as Chavez was still recovering from his fourth cancer-related surgery in Cuba. The opposition argues that the annual speech should have been postponed.
Maduro, who visited Chavez in Cuba the previous day, announced that former vice president Elias Jaua had been designated by the president to be the new foreign minister, a post which Maduro headed before his appointment as vice president in October.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles has challenged the appointment, claiming that the nomination should be reviewed to determine under what authority the vice president was acting, since only the president has the power to make appointments.
Only a portion of the opposition lawmakers walked out of the session. "We have an illegitimate government," said lawmaker Maria Corina Machado, one of about a dozen who left.
Others in the cabinet, including Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez, supported Maduro’s announcement, rejecting the claim that the appointment broke any rules.
“There's no constitutional controversy,” Ramirez told reporters, calling the politicians who walked out “the most extremist sector of the far right.”
Hugo Chavez was re-elected in October, but has not made any public comments since his latest cancer surgery on December 11, raising doubts in the opposition of his ability to lead the nation. Government officials have said Chavez is being treated for a "respiratory deficiency."
The government has also indefinitely postponed Chavez's inauguration despite opposition complaints that it is also unconstitutional.