Critics Question Chávez Signature
on an Official Decree
By William Neuman
Published: January 17, 2013
The New York Times
CARACAS, Venezuela — A tempest in an ink pot has broken out over the signature of President Hugo Chávez, which suddenly appeared on a government decree this week despite his long absence from the country.
The case of the mysterious signature comes as Mr. Chávez remains out of public view since undergoing cancer surgery in Havana on Dec. 11. He is still in Cuba, officials say, undergoing what they call a delicate recovery, which left him too sick to be sworn in on Jan. 10.
Now the appearance of the signed decree in a government publication on Wednesday has put a new twist on the fight over how the country should proceed without him.
The decree named a longtime Chávez ally, Elías Jaua, as foreign minister and was dated Jan. 15. It bears Mr. Chávez’s distinctive signature at the bottom.
But it also says that it was promulgated in Caracas, an inconsistency critics pounced on.
“He is one of the few people who can be in two places at the same time,” said Cecilia Sosa, a former head of the Supreme Court who said that Mr. Jaua’s appointment was not valid.
Carlos Berrizbeitia, an opposition lawmaker, demanded that officials produce the original decree for handwriting analysis.
“We are sure that it was scanned,” Mr. Berrizbeitia told the newspaper El Nacional. “The president is in Cuba, not in Caracas.”
In an interview on Thursday with the Spanish news agency EFE, Vice President Nicolás Maduro dismissed the issue, saying that Mr. Chávez gave the order to appoint Mr. Jaua, adding that the president “signed the decree and the decree was published, simple as that.”
Tensions have been high here since the Supreme Court ruled last week that Mr. Chávez could postpone his swering-in indefinitely, infuriating the opposition.
In past trips to Cuba for treatment, Mr. Chávez always returned to the spotlight, appearing on television or posting on Twitter. On this trip there has been silence, leading to speculation that he may be incapacitated, dying or unable to continue as president.
“If the president can sign decrees, I call on him to appear, to speak to Venezuela and tell it what is happening in this government,” Henrique Capriles, a state governor who ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Chávez in October, said Wednesday.
The newspaper Últimas Noticias reported that at least once last year, while Mr. Chávez was in Cuba, a document had appeared with his signature. In 2011, shortly after receiving a diagnosis of cancer, Mr. Chávez activated an “electronic signature” so that he could sign documents via computer.