CARACAS, Venezuela — Nothing shows the extent of Hugo Chávez's grip on power quite as clearly as his absence from his own inauguration Thursday.
Venezuela gathered foreign allies and tens of thousands of exuberant supporters to celebrate a new term for a leader too ill to return home for a real swearing-in.
In many ways, it looked like the sort of rally the president has staged dozens of times throughout his 14 years in power: The leader's face beamed from shirts, signs and banners. Adoring followers danced and chanted in the streets to music blaring from speakers mounted on trucks. Nearly everyone wore red, the color of his Bolivarian Revolution movement.
But this time, there was no Chávez on the balcony of Miraflores Palace. It was the first time in Venezuela's history that a president has missed his inauguration, said Elías Pino Iturrieta, a prominent historian.
Those in the crowd raised their hands and repeated an oath after Vice President Nicolás Maduro, Chávez's designated successor. Maduro called for a round of applause for the president's Cabinet ministers, saying they were starting a new term, and he said of Chávez, "he's in a battle."
The Venezuelan leader is so ill after a fourth cancer surgery in Cuba that he has made no broadcast statement in more than a month.
Yet the opposition seems powerless to effectively challenge him. Despite opposition claims that the constitution demands a Jan. 10 inauguration, the pro-Chávez congress approved delaying the inauguration and the Supreme Court on Wednesday endorsed the postponement, saying the president could be sworn in later.