MIAMI (AP) - Venezuelans in Miami called on legislators in their homeland to respect the constitution and divulge more information about Hugo Chavez's health after the National Assembly voted to delay the ailing leader's scheduled swearing-in Thursday.
In the city with the most Venezuelans outside the South American country, those who left say they are frustrated by the lack of transparency about Chavez's condition and the manner in which they believe the country is being governed. They are planning a protest on Saturday, which also marks one year since Chavez closed the consulate in Miami.
"We are going to ask for international support in helping restore democratic order in Venezuela," said Ernesto Ackerman, president of the Independent Venezuelan-American Citizens, a nonprofit group.
Chavez remains hospitalized in Cuba following respiratory complications from cancer surgery last month. The Venezuelan constitution says the president should take office Jan. 10 with an oath before the National Assembly, but should he be unable, he can do so before the Supreme Court. Those loyal to Chavez argue the clause doesn't mention a specific date for the president to take the oath before that court.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday said Chavez's inauguration can be legally postponed, siding with his government amid a bitter opposition outcry.
The opposition contends the Jan. 10 date is the start of a new term and that without taking the oath, Chavez has no legitimacy in office after that date. Critics also contend the only way to delay the ceremony is to approve a 90-day "temporary absence" for the president. They want a panel of doctors appointed to visit and evaluate whether Chavez can remain in office.
In Doral - a suburb of Miami known as "Doralzuela" for its abundance of Venezuelan residents and businesses - Venezuelan immigrants said they want clear information on Chavez's condition. They also want to know if he indeed will be able to take the oath at a future date.
"They maintain a smokescreen," said Rosario Cusco, 53, who was eating traditional sandwiches called arepas with her elderly mother, who still lives in Caracas and is visiting until February. She said she was concerned about her mother's safety upon returning home.
Alcera Herrera, 42, who left Caracas with her family for the United States after Chavez was elected to a new six-year term last year, said the television in her house was on all day long awaiting news.
"It's illegal what they are doing," she said. "They've always taken an oath. Why are they doing it differently now?"
Some legal scholars in Venezuela have said its government and Supreme Court are not acting in accordance with the law. Henrique Sanchez Falcon, a professor at the Central University of Venezuela said the government's position "is absolutely contrary to what's established under the constitution, which says that the term lasts six years."
Venezuelan groups in Miami were planning to take action, sending letters to U.S. lawmakers and demonstrate.
Ackerman said the demonstration planned for Saturday will bring together leaders of Venezuelan groups in the United States. An estimated 189,000 Venezuelan immigrants live in the United States, about half of those in the state of Florida, according to U.S. Census figures. The largest concentration is in South Florida. Many are fierce opponents of Chavez.
Mario Di Giovanni, a coordinator with Voto Donde Sea, a group that helped mobilize Venezuelan voters in the United States to vote in last year's elections, said he and others were working to get impartial, accurate information out to Venezuelans abroad and in the country through social media.
"We're trying to send out a message to let them know what the Constitution really says and let them know what kind of violations are occurring in Venezuela," Di Giovanni said.
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