CARACAS, Venezuela -- Top government officials are threatening to take action against opposition governors and issuing dark warnings about conspiracies against the government of President Hugo Chávez, who is ailing and remains incommunicado in Cuba.
At a large rally for Mr. Chávez on Thursday, the day designated for his inauguration, Vice President Nicolás Maduro sent a warning to government critics who had objected to a Supreme Court ruling that endorsed the indefinite postponement of the president's swearing-in.
Many interpreted his words to be directed at Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda State who lost to Mr. Chávez in the presidential election in October. He is the most likely opposition candidate if a special election has to be held should Mr. Chávez die, resign or become too sick to continue in office.
"Some governors out there have come out to make declarations, playing with words," Mr. Maduro said. "We say to them, 'Stop the waffling.' If you don't recognize the legitimate government of President Chávez, we are evaluating legally very forceful actions, because if you don't recognize me, I'm not obligated to recognize you. It's that simple."
He added: "Watch your words and your actions. Take care not to get involved in coups and destabilizing adventures."
Before leaving for cancer surgery in Havana in early December, Mr. Chávez designated Mr. Maduro as his political heir and said that he wanted him to run for president if a special election became necessary.
It is not unusual for Venezuelan officials to threaten or lash out at the opposition, which they routinely characterize as an enemy bent on overthrowing Mr. Chávez's revolution. But recently, amid a debate over the constitutionality of postponing the president's swearing in, the tone has gotten harsher.
Later on Thursday, Mr. Capriles posted a reply on Twitter saying, "Threats from No. 2s make us laugh, let's see if starting tomorrow they get back to work, Government in paralysis."
Mr. Capriles added in another post: "What do you know, they didn't let Al Capone speak, what happened?"
Vladimir Villegas, a former ambassador who is now critical of the government, said that in Mr. Chávez's absence, Mr. Maduro and other officials were using the clash with the opposition to promote unity among their followers.
"They can't live without an enemy," Mr. Villegas said. "The confrontation with the opposition holds them together."
The vice president is appointed by the president, and some in the opposition have argued that Mr. Maduro cannot continue to serve in the new term without being reappointed by Mr. Chávez. But the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Maduro and other appointees could continue in their posts.
Mr. Capriles has pointed out that although Mr. Maduro is now at the head of the government, he is not an elected official.
"He was not elected Oct. 7," Mr. Capriles said last week, referring to the recent presidential election. "He shouldn't come and talk to us about legitimacy."
The front page of the newspaper Tal Cual on Friday showed a caricature of Mr. Maduro with the headline: "The Usurper." Another newspaper opposed to the government, El Nacional, ran a front-page headline that said: "The new term starts with legality questioned."
On Thursday, Mr. Maduro also said the government had uncovered a plot to destabilize the country, although he offered no evidence and was vague in his description of the conspiracy.
"There is a plan by sectors of the ultraright to find a cadaver, two cadavers and fill the streets of Venezuela with protests," he said, adding that the opposition was planning "a kind of sabotage and constant fires in the cities."
"We alerted all the police security forces to be very careful of their actions because they are looking to stain the political life" of the country, Mr. Maduro said.
Also last week, the government said it was starting an administrative proceeding against Globovisión, a television station allied with the opposition, over its coverage of the constitutional controversy around Mr. Chávez's swearing-in. The proceeding could result in a large fine or the temporary shutdown of the station.
The National Telecommunications Commission announced the proceeding on Wednesday, several hours after Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly and a top Chávez ally, said in a speech that the station should be sanctioned for its coverage of the issue.
The director of the commission, Pedro Maldonado, said punishment could include a fine of up to 10 percent of the station's gross revenue and a 72-hour shutdown.
Globovisión paid a fine of about $2.2 million last year for its coverage of a deadly prison riot in 2010. The government said its reporting threatened public order and fomented anxiety.
On Friday, Globovisión ran a short spot several times showing a section of the Constitution that defends free speech followed by Mr. Maldonado announcing the proceeding against the station. It ends with the words, "Censorship of the Constitution."
Mr. Chávez has not been seen or heard from since his cancer surgery on Dec. 11 in Havana. Officials have said that he is fighting a severe lung infection. In past trips to Cuba for cancer treatment, starting in June 2011, Mr. Chávez stayed in the public eye, posting on Twitter, making phone calls to government-run television stations and on one occasion conducting a televised government meeting from Cuba.
Mr. Chávez's brother, Adán, the governor of Barinas State, said after returning from a visit to Cuba that the president was advancing in his recovery, according to a statement posted on his office's Web site. It added that rumors that the president was in a coma were "totally false."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.