As the Wall Street Journal points out, the seven-minute statement fell far short of the marathon nine-hour speech that Chavez delivered to lawmakers last year. According to El Universal, this is because the vice president chose to deliver the administration’s annual report to National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello in writing rather than read it aloud, as Chavez had done in the past.
Maduro also said that Jaua, who lost the election for Miranda state governor to opposition leader Henrique Capriles last month, would serve as the first-ever “political vice president of the government.” Though he did not outline Jaua’s responsibilities as part of the new position, Maduro did say that he would be "available to assist" the National Assembly in the future.
The opposition has challenged Jaua's appointment, with Capriles expressing doubt that it was ordered directly by Chavez. The opposition figure said that he would investigate the directive in order to determine if it was given by Maduro instead. Capriles’ suspicion is a marked departure from his subdued acceptance of the Supreme Court’s decision to back the delay of Chavez’s inauguration last week, and suggests that he plans to go after Maduro’s legitimacy after all.
The anti-Chavez camp is also pouncing on the frequent visits by administration officials to Cuba recently, as the New York Times reports. Leopoldo Lopez, another main figure in the opposition, has accused the government of “moving the capital” of Venezuela to Havana. Lopez’s Popular Will Party, a faction of the opposition coalition, has been particularly vocal in its criticism of the government in recent days. At an anti-Chavez rally in Caracas on Saturday, he vowed that his party “won't remain passive" in its objection to Maduro ruling in Chavez’s place without calling for elections.
- The Cuban health ministry has confirmed the second cholera outbreak in the country in four months, this time in Havana. Officials say that at least 51 people are infected in the capital, the first outbreak of the disease in the city in over 130 years. The BBC reports that the source has been identified as a food vendor who contracted the disease in the previous epidemic in the east of the country. So far no deaths have been reported by the government, although according to the AFP one woman in Havana has claimed that her son died of cholera several days ago.
- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has expressed support for Venezuela’s continued role as an intermediary in the government’s talks with FARC guerrillas, and says that he expects it to continue even in the event of Chavez’s death, Semana reports.
- Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon on Wednesday called on Santos and former president Alvaro Uribe to end their highly public feud, which has lasted for over a year and came to a head recently over comments Santos made about Uribe’s alleged support for a jailed ex-security chief.
- In the wake of recent violent attacks in Chile’s Araucania region and the government’s subsequent crackdown on the Mapuche community there, Chilean historian Luis Carcamo puts the conflict in context with an interesting but concise summary of the historical repression of the Mapuche in the country in an opinion piece for El Mostrador.
- Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has officially begun a temporary leave from office in order to focus on his re-election campaign ahead of the February 17 presidential elections. According to the latests polls cited by EFE, Correa leads his nearest rival -- former banker Guillermo Lasso -- in polls by some 50 percent.
- Over at the Americas Quarterly blog, Mexican analyst Rodrigo Borja profiles the politial opposition to Mexican President Peña Nieto, arguing that both would-be opposition parties (the PRD and PAN) are too splintered to form a real threat to the president. The real threat to his presidency, Borja argues, lies in the streets, “in the hands of groups like [youth movement] Yosoy132 and [nascent political party and social movement] Morena, not with Congress or in the hands of political parties.”
- The New York Times reports on efforts by the residents of Cholula, Mexico to protect the city’s historic churches from artifact thieves and art traffickers. After a high-profile robbery in October in which at least a dozen religious images were stolen, locals have volunteered in large numbers to keep watch over churches there.
- Milenio reports that Mexican poet and anti-violence activist Javier Sicilia yesterday presented a petition to the US embassy in Mexico City which calls for increased gun regulation in the United States and was signed by 54,000 Mexicans. As the Post has previously noted, lawmakers and ATF officials believe that vast majority of guns seized in Mexico are sold in the US.
- Recent rainfall has brought some relief to Brazil’s hydroelectric dams, which in recent weeks have seen their water levels fall to dangerously low levels. Still, as the AP reports, doubts persist about the country’s ability to meet its electricity demand this year.
- The government of Peru has announced that it intends to dramatically step up coca eradication this year. According to a statement released by Interior Minister Wilfredo Pedraza, officials plan on eradicating 22,000 hectares of the plant, which InSight Crime notes amounts to a 57 percent increase from last year’s goal of eradicating 14,000 hectares.