Venezuelan VP strikes optimistic tone on Chavez
But opposition leaders argue that the constitution does not allow for a president's inauguration to be postponed. They have criticized the lack of information on Chavez's long term prognosis and the confusion surrounding the inauguration as an example of the government's disdain for democratic rule of law.
Maduro, Chavez's designated successor, has stepped up his public appearances since the president left, in a clear effort to project continuity and unity within the leftist "chavista" movement. On Sunday night, state television showed Maduro holding a Cabinet meeting on government plans for next year.
Government leaders have worked to keep Chavez present in spirit, even playing recordings of the flamboyant leader singing the national anthem at the start of each event. At the same time, there have been suggestions that Venezuelans should contemplate a future without Chavez, who has dominated life in the South American country for 14 years.
On Sunday, Defense Minister Diego Molero said the Venezuelan armed forces would be loyal to Chavez's movement with or without the president, though he was careful to add that he expected Chavez to return to Venezuela.
"In the event of the absence of our commander in chief — a scenario we are certain will not occur — the National Bolivarian Armed Forces knows what to do, is completely prepared, in the sense of continuing, ideologically, the path of the last 14 years," Molero said.
Associated Press writer Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana contributed to this report.