Venezuelan lawmakers have postponed this week's inauguration ceremony for President Hugo Chavez, who hasn't been seen since he went to Cuba one month ago for cancer treatment.
Reports indicate the Venezuelan leader is losing his battle with the disease, and rumors have been swirling on the Internet that he is already dead.
The government is only saying that Chavez has a severe respiratory infection that makes it hard to breathe.
The nation's constitution requires that Chavez, who was re-elected last year, must show up for the ceremony; otherwise, the speaker of the National Assembly is to be sworn in.
"It doesn't mean anything if President Chavez isn't present (for the inauguration)," Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello, a Chavez supporter, said, indicating the government is preparing to postpone the event.
Chavez may be popular with Venezuela's poor, but his tenure has divided the country more than ever. For one of the most oil rich countries in the world, the nation's economy is a shambles and violent crime has skyrocketed.
If Chavez doesn't return, new elections will have to be held.
Vice President and former union leader Nicholas Maduro is first in line for succession, but Cabello is closer to the armed forces.
Cuba reportedly favors the creation of a junta to maintain Chavez's socialist legacy after his death.