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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Audie Cornish.
President Hugo Chavez was scheduled to be sworn in for his fourth term as president of Venezuela next week. But his inauguration and the country's political future is now up in the air. Yesterday, the Venezuelan government confirmed that the 58-year-old president is suffering from a severe respiratory infection, following his latest round of cancer surgery in Cuba. Critics argue his condition shows that Chavez is no longer fit to serve as president and the opposition is calling for a new presidential vote.
Joining us with more on the news and its implications is Ian James, Associated Press bureau chief in Caracas. And, Ian, what more can you tell us about the president's health?
IAN JAMES: The latest we've heard from the government is that he has a severe respiratory inspection. And when the government added the word severe yesterday, it was the first time that they've done that and also said that he has a respiratory deficiency. And what precisely that means, it's not entirely clear, but some medical experts say they think it sounds like pneumonia, but that it could be of various levels of severity.
CORNISH: And at this point, isn't it entirely clear what cancer he's specifically suffering from?
JAMES: No. That has also not been revealed. He was diagnosed in June, 2011. And since then he has declined to say specifically what type of cancer it is or the precise location of the tumors that have been removed.
CORNISH: Well, what happens if Chavez is not able to be there for the January 10 swearing in? Are there legal or constitutional concerns?
JAMES: Yes. The opposition has said that they believe that if Chavez is not here in Caracas to be sworn in on January 10 that, at that point, the process should move toward the calling of new elections which would be held within 30 days. And among politicians and constitutional scholars as well, there's disagreement about that point.
CORNISH: So it's not clear that that actually would happen or could happen?
JAMES: Right, it's not clear. And also, some of Chavez's allies have made the argument that they should be able to delay the inauguration if necessary. And the Supreme Court has already said that - although this question hasn't been brought before the court yet, it could rule on such a question if it were brought before the court.
CORNISH: Now, who are some of the people who might be next in line for the presidency? Has Chavez essentially handpicked a successor?
JAMES: President Chavez has made clear that Vice President Nicolas Maduro is his chosen successor to run for office to replace him. And the opposition, although it has not said, is expected to choose Henrique Capriles, who recently was defeated by Chavez in the October election.
CORNISH: Ian, what is the next step then? Are people in a wait-and-see position at this point?
JAMES: Yes, it's really a tensed wait and see for people on both sides at this point. And some of what the plans from the government side are - may start to become clear this Saturday when the national assembly plans to hold a session and choose its new leaders. But we're less than a week away from the swearing in, and it's still not at all clear what plans Chavez's political allies have in mind.
CORNISH: Ian James is Associated Press bureau chief in Caracas. Ian, thank you for speaking with us.
JAMES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.