Venezuela's newly-named Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Thursday that ailing President Hugo Chavez is running the country and presented as proof Chavez's signature on a presidential decree naming Jaua to his new post.
The decree published on Wednesday was the first real sign that Chavez is still in charge of the nation's affairs since he underwent a fourth cancer operation on December 11 in Havana, Cuba.
In an interview with a local radio station, Jaua said, "If I am the foreign minister, it is because President Chavez is ruling and making decisions."
No other member of the Venezuelan government is qualified to appoint or dismiss ministers, he said.
The decree reignited calls from Chavez's political opponents for greater transparency about his health condition. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles demanded Chavez's public appearance since he was well enough to sign the official document.
Nobody should doubt that Chavez is exercising power from Havana, said Jaua, calling on the opposition to respect the government's legitimacy and abandon its attempts at sowing instability.
"Our country is aware that President Hugo Chavez has to recover and that is the main concern," said Jaua.
Chavez has not been seen in public since his latest operation, and secrecy surrounds the exact nature of his cancer, known to be in the pelvic region.
The opposition claims there is reason to doubt the authenticity of Chavez's signature on the decree, and is calling on the government to display the original document.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said Thursday that Chavez will not be present at the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in Santiago between January 26 and 28.
He also praised his Venezuelan counterpart and regretted that his absence from the summit.