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Chavez’s Ally Maduro Narrowly Wins in Venezuela; Opposition Protests.

CARACAS, VenezuelaNicolas Maduro, a former bus driver who became late socialist leader Hugo Chavez‘s protégé, narrowly won Venezuela’s presidential election on Sunday but his rival refused to accept the result and demanded a recount.

The controversy raised fears of political unrest in Venezuela, an OPEC nation of 29 million people with the world’s biggest oil reserves, although there was no immediate trouble.

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles said he did not recognize official results giving Maduro 50.7 percent support versus 49.1 percent for him, a difference of just 235,000 ballots.

“Mr. Maduro, if you were illegitimate before, now you are even more loaded with illegitimacy,” Capriles said, alleging more than 3,000 “incidents” during the vote from gunshots to the re-opening of polling centers after their official closure.

“I didn’t fight against a candidate today, but against the whole abuse of power,” Capriles said.

Though opposition supporters chanted “fraud” and banged pots and pans in protest, Capriles did not call them onto the streets, and Maduro gave his support to a full recount even as he insisted his victory was clean.

The National Electoral Council said Maduro’s victory was “irreversible” and gave no indication when it might carry out a recount.

Government supporters celebrated outside the Miraflores presidential palace, where Maduro paid an emotional tribute to Chavez, the socialist leader who named him as his successor in his last speech to the nation before dying last month of cancer.

“The fight continues!” Maduro, 50, told the victory rally, holding a picture of Chavez next to a crucifix and playing a recording of his voice singing Venezuela’s national anthem.

“This was the first time without the giant candidate, but he left behind his ‘son,’ who is now going to be president and is going to show he is worthy of the fatherland,” Maduro said.

Turnout was 79 percent, just below the record 80 percent last year when an ailing Chavez won re-election for a third time.

Capriles, 40, had argued that voters were tired of divisive Chavez-era politics, and vowed to tackle daily worries such as violent crime, high inflation and creaking utilities.

Chavez’s death, at 58, had cemented his already cult-like status among supporters who adored his down-to-earth style, humble beginnings, aggressive “anti-imperialist” rhetoric, and channeling of oil revenue into social welfare projects.

“Maduro is the continuation of the policies of President Chavez,” said Jhonni Gonzalez, 54, of the 23 de Enero slum of Caracas, where the late president has a huge following.

“These 14 years have shown that socialism is the solution not only for Venezuela, but for humanity. It’s the solution for the world’s poor. Capriles represents capitalism,” he said.


To detractors, though, the Chavez era was one of autocratic rule, the bullying of opponents, and the squandering of an unprecedented bonanza of oil income through corruption and inefficient management.

A little-known union activist before becoming a lawmaker and Chavez confidante from the early 1990s, Maduro took over as acting president after his death.

On the campaign trail, he faithfully invoked his mentor hundreds of times a day, calling himself the late leader’s political “son” and “apostle.”

Capriles aides said they were fighting Chavez’s ghost.

As well as facing an opposition challenge to his legitimacy, Maduro will have to face skepticism from within the ruling coalition after such a narrow win.

He has offered few clues as to how he might differ from his mentor. Like many in Chavez’s circle, his fierce loyalty precluded him from ever offering a different opinion in public.

He will need to keep the support of powerful Congress head Diosdado Cabello, whom many Venezuelans suspect is a potential future rival even though the pair have publicly pledged loyalty.

And he will have to decide whether to keep or freshen up the senior economic team of Finance Minister Jorge Giordani, central bank president Nelson Merentes and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez.

Capriles campaigned on promises to introduce a Brazilian-style model that mixes pro-business policies with heavy state spending on welfare. But he vowed to move slowly in dismantling Chavez’s economic policies for fear of creating economic or political instability.

“We’ve spent the last 14 years with a government that hasn’t catered to us at all,” said Maitane Larrondo, a 33-year-old engineer who voted for Capriles On Sunday.

The opposition leader had also vowed to end aid to left-wing Latin American governments such as Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, and put a dampener on alliances with Chavez-era allies like Iran and Syria.

The election was being closely watched in Cuba, which has relied heavily on Chavez’s help.

Venezuela has been shipping about 115,000 barrels of oil a day to Cuba, partly in exchange for the services of thousands of medical workers. Some 30 economic joint ventures were launched during Chavez’s rule, and many more were planned.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Pro-Chavez Venezuelans Mark Coup Anniversary on Eve of Election.

Hugo Chavez loyalists celebrated on Saturday a milestone in the late leader’s socialist revolution ahead of Venezuela‘s presidential election, irking the opposition that complained of a campaign tipped in favor of the government.

Saturday marked the 11th anniversary of Chavez’s dramatic return to power after a two-day coup tacitly backed by the United States. The event galvanized support for the former paratrooper and prompted him to push ahead with increasingly radical policies that further polarized Venezuela.

Venezuelan state television broadcast a barrage of programs glorifying Chavez and portrayed the opposition candidate in Sunday’s election, Henrique Capriles, as the political heir of a “right-wing oligarchy” that orchestrated the 2002 coup.

Pro-Chavez militias also gathered in commemoration at the Caracas military museum where the president’s coffin is on display. That event ended up giving government candidate Nicolas Maduro more valuable air time despite a ban on formal campaigning in the final two days before the vote.

One by one, the acting president decorated each member of the so-called Bolivarian militias, armed civilian groups that Chavez created in 2009 to help defend his self-proclaimed revolution and prevent a repeat of the 2002 coup.

To shouts of “Chavez lives,” a somber Maduro said: “Let’s honor his memory, his legacy.”

Frustrated by what it sees as an unfair use of state funds to buoy Maduro’s candidacy, the opposition lodged a formal complaint with the electoral authority alleging that state TV channel Venezolana de Television (VTV) was violating election laws by broadcasting “biased political content.”

“It is unacceptable that an official channel breaks the rules,” Capriles’ campaign team said in a statement that called on election authorities to take immediate action against VTV.

In its complaint, the opposition also alleged that Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona had flouted Venezuelan election laws by publicly endorsing Maduro, who is favored to win on Sunday.

Maradona, who is well-known for his leftist politics and was close to Chavez, flew in on Thursday to join Maduro in his final campaign rally and spent much of Friday by his side.

A representative from Venezuela’s Election Council said it had not commented on the opposition complaint.

Meanwhile, VTV broadcast live footage of Foreign Minister Elias Jaua touring an apparently abandoned construction site of an athletic complex in Miranda, the state that the sports-loving Capriles governs, warning viewers that only a Maduro victory could ensure prosperity for all Venezuelans.

“This is another white elephant,” said Jaua, who ran for governor of Miranda last December but lost to Capriles. “Tomorrow is a historical day in which we’ll vote to strengthen democracy and our revolution.”

After formal campaigning came to a close on Thursday night, the 40-year-old Capriles relaxed the next day by playing basketball in Petare, the largest slum in Caracas. He has campaigned on an image of youth and energy, almost always sporting a Venezuela baseball cap.

The campaign to succeed Chavez, who died on March 5 after a two-year battle with cancer, has been especially acrimonious, with both sides spouting harsh language and personal insults.

At stake is control of the world’s largest oil reserves, economic aid to a host of left-leaning governments in Latin America, and the future of what Chavez called “21st century socialism,” a mix of hard-left politics, generous government spending on the poor, and state control over the economy.

The Maduro camp has relentlessly accused Capriles of being a spoiled rich kid who plans to dismantle the oil-funded social welfare programs that made Chavez a hero to the poor, a claim the opposition has repeatedly denied.

For his part, Capriles has described Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver, as a “poor imitation” of Chavez and a political novice without a plan to address problems such as rampant violent crime, high inflation, and a slowing economy.

To be sure, both candidates have offered few specifics on the policies they would adopt as president, leaving many Venezuelans to lament the lack of a serious political debate.

“We haven’t talked seriously about the grave problems in our economy. We don’t really know how we are going to solve the crime problem. We haven’t discussed the militia, education, or our crumbling infrastructure,” wrote Juan Nagel, a contributor to the Caracas Chronicles, a prominent political blog that sympathizes with the opposition.

Polls open on Sunday at 6 a.m and voting will run until 6 p.m., though it could drag on later if there are still lines. Results are expected on Sunday night.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Maduro Turns to Chavez Sympathy Vote in Sunday’s Venezuela Election.

CARACAS, Venezuela — Nicolas Maduro is counting on a wave of sympathy for late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to win election on April 14. Should he succeed, he’ll be on his own as he confronts accelerating inflation, shortages of consumer goods, and weakening growth.

Throughout the two-week campaign, Maduro has played a video of a Dec. 8 speech by Chavez in which the self-declared socialist asked Venezuelans to vote for his longtime foreign minister should he not survive a cancer operation in Cuba.

The acting president, who calls himself “Chavez’s son,” has mentioned his predecessor’s name more than 7,100 times since his March 5 death, according to a website tracking his speeches.

While Maduro, 50, remains the favorite to defeat 40-year-old opposition candidate and former Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles, polls shows growing discontent with the economy, said Luis Vicente Leon, president of Caracas-based polling firm Datanalisis.

“Maduro is a candidate with a short shelf life and he’s been losing ground,” Leon said in a phone interview from Caracas. For Maduro, the electoral campaign “is the honeymoon. The marriage will be much harder.”

Maduro had 55 percent against 45 percent for Capriles in a simulated vote of 1,300 people carried out April 1-5, according to a Datanalisis poll. The Caracas-based pollster’s survey had a margin of error of 2.6 percent. In a March 11-13 Datanalisis telephone poll, Maduro led by 14 percentage points.

Poverty Reduction

During his 14 years in power, Chavez increased state control over the economy by nationalizing more than 1,000 companies or their assets and introducing currency and price controls. He tapped the world’s biggest oil reserves to help cut poverty to 29.5 percent in 2011 from 48.6 percent in 2002, according to the United Nations.

Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader who led the National Assembly until 2006, has called the election a choice between capitalism and socialism.

“It’s either them and their capitalism or us, the fatherland and socialism,” he said April 6 on state television.

Chavez won his third re-election last October when he defeated Capriles by 11 percentage points after raising salaries, constructing thousands of homes for poorer families and increasing cheap imports to slow inflation. The spending binge helped the economy grow 5.5 percent in 2012.

Fiscal Deficit

A 16.5 percent rise in imports in 2012 led Venezuela to post a current account deficit in the fourth quarter for the first time since 2009.

That forced the government to devalue the bolivar by 32 percent in February as it sought to close a fiscal deficit for the central government and state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA of 14.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2012, Bank of America Corp. (BofA) said in an April 4 note.

Even after the devaluation, BofA said it expects a deficit of 9.7 percent this year.

The shortage of greenbacks also prompted Maduro to unveil a dollar auction system in March to rein in an unregulated currency market that trades at almost four times the official rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar. The government didn’t disclose the implied exchange rate from the auction.

“In 100 days, they’ve imposed two devaluations on us,” Capriles said March 20. “What these measures really mean are that prices will continue rising and it will be harder to get hold of products.”

Consumer prices rose 23 percent in February from a year earlier, the fastest pace in 10 months and the highest official rate in the hemisphere. Rising prices are compounded by shortages of products on supermarket shelves.

The central bank’s scarcity index, which measures the amount of goods that are out of stock in the market, rose to a record high of 20.4 percent in January.

‘Serious Issues’

“Maduro has inherited a very difficult situation in terms of the economy,” said Victor Sierra, managing partner and head of sales and trading for emerging market fixed-income at Torino Capital LLC in New York. “They haven’t changed the oil in the car for a while and it’s about to have some serious issues.”

Capriles, whose grandfather founded the local unit of Nabisco Inc., is seeking to mobilize the 6.5 million people who voted for him in October while counting on some of the 8 million who voted for Chavez to stay home. Capriles can win if one-in- four government supporters abstain, his campaign coordinator Carlos Ocariz said in a March 26 interview in Caracas.

Even if he doesn’t win, by narrowing the margin of defeat Capriles would cement his position as de facto leader of the opposition and be well placed if the economy undermines support for Maduro, said Hugo Perez Hernaiz, a sociologist at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas.

“The opposition could be focusing on closing the distance to one digit and waiting for the disaster to explode,” Perez Hernaiz said in a phone interview from Bilbao, Spain.

‘Inherently Weak’

Maduro could face as much pressure from within his own movement as from the Venezuelan opposition, said Risa Grais-Targow, an analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group Ltd in New York.

Coming after Chavez, Maduro will be an “inherently weak” president who won’t be able to push through pragmatic policies as other figures within the movement jostle for power, Grais-Targow said.

“Those dynamics will limit the extent to which he can make any meaningful policy adjustments because he’ll have to prove he’s the true heir to Chavismo,” Grais-Targow said in a phone interview from New York. “There’s been a lot of wishful thinking that he’s going to be more moderate because it’s going to be difficult for him to do anything that’s seen as abandoning the revolution.”

Officials in Maduro’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment by Bloomberg News.

Maduro said Thursday that as president he would focus on crime, government inefficiency and the economy. An ample margin of victory will give him a mandate to govern, he said.

Chavez’s Legacy

“If you ask me what I’m going to do, here it is,” Maduro said, pointing at a pamphlet Chavez presented as his government manifesto in October’s election. “I’m going to carry out Hugo Chavez’s legacy.”

In a Feb. 16 speech, Maduro vowed to pressure corporations “as comandante Hugo Chavez said we should” as part of the transition to socialism. Capriles said he would raise the minimum wage 47 percent and stop “giving away” the country’s oil, a reference to the Petrocaribe energy program that subsidizes crude to countries in the Caribbean and Central America.

While Maduro has campaigned as a clone of Chavez, he will struggle to mimic his governing style, said Datanalisis’ Leon. Chavez skirted economic issues by charming his followers in five-hour speeches full of jokes and anecdotes. From Maduro they will expect concrete results, Leon said.

“Maduro doesn’t have Chavez’s charisma to surf over problems and ask people to wait,” Leon said. “The memory of Chavez won’t protect Maduro as president.”

© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

Venezuela Election Sunday to Test Chavez’s Socialist Legacy.

CARACAS, Venezuela — The late Hugo Chavez‘s self-declared socialist revolution will be put to the test at a presidential election on Sunday that pits his chosen successor against a younger rival promising change in the nation he polarized.

Most opinion polls give his protégé, acting President Nicolas Maduro, a strong lead thanks to Chavez’s endorsement and the surge of grief and sympathy over his death from cancer last month.

Maduro, a burly 50-year-old former bus driver, is promising to be faithful to Chavez’s socialist policies and he has copied his former boss’ fierce rhetoric throughout the campaign.

“Do you want one of the rancid bourgeois to win?” Maduro shouted at one of his closing rallies. “Or do you want a worker, a son of Chavez, a patriot and a revolutionary? You decide!”

Waving posters of his late boss, the crowd sang back the campaign slogan: “Chavez, I swear to you, I’ll vote for Maduro!”

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state, says Venezuelans need a change from the divisive politics of Chavez’s 14-year rule, and he is hoping a late surge will turn things in his favor.

At stake is control of the world’s biggest crude oil reserves, economic aid to a host of left-leaning governments around Latin America, and the legacy of “Chavismo” socialism.

At each of his campaign events, Maduro has played a video of Chavez giving him his blessing in an emotional last speech to the OPEC nation of 29 million people before he succumbed to cancer on March 5.

If Maduro wins, he will face big challenges from day one as he seeks to control the disparate ruling coalition without his predecessor’s dominant personality or the robust state finances that helped the ailing Chavez win re-election just last October.

Capriles would face an even tougher landscape if he wins as he would have to try to win over Chavez’s millions of ferociously loyal supporters, including suspicious employees at state-run companies that have long been tied to Chavez’s movement.

At every rally, Capriles has rejected Maduro’s claims that he plans to cancel the oil-funded social welfare projects, or slum “missions,” that were a high-profile cornerstone of the late president’s popularity with the poor.

Capriles has drawn blood with scathing attacks on Maduro and others whom he denounces as “skin-deep revolutionaries.” He accuses them of betraying Chavez’s legacy by filling their pockets while paying only lip service to his ideology.

Maduro, meanwhile, paints his rival as a pampered rich kid who represents a wealthy and venal Venezuelan elite — and their “imperial” financial backers in Washington.


A descendant of European Jews on his mother’s side, Capriles does come from a wealthy family, but has sought to project a man-of-the-people image riding into slums on his motorbike and nearly always wearing a baseball cap.

Maduro, a former member of a rock band and a union activist, rose to be Chavez’s foreign minister and vice president, but has been playing up his modest roots at rallies, frequently calling onto stage fellow workers whom he recognizes.

During a bitter, lightning campaign punctuated by highly personalized attacks from both candidates, Maduro has stressed his close ties to Chavez at every turn. He even said he was visited by the late leader’s spirit in the form a little bird.

In another surreal turn, Maduro also warned anyone thinking of voting for his rival that they would bring down a centuries-old curse upon themselves, playing on the fertile mix of animist and Christian beliefs in Venezuela’s plains and jungles.

In a nation where Chavez’s confrontational rhetoric helped fuel deep mistrust between his supporters and the opposition, both political camps have repeatedly accused the other of dirty tricks and fomenting violent plans.

Loyal “Chavistas” often accuse the opposition of plotting a re-run of a brief coup against Chavez a decade ago, while the Capriles camp says the government is shamelessly using state resources to try to ensure Maduro’s triumph.

Maduro has accused the opposition of planning to use mercenaries to kill him and sabotage the electricity grid, and also accused the U.S. government of plotting to kill Capriles and then blame it on his administration to sow chaos.

Capriles says those kind of shrill claims are an echo of the worst of Chavez’s rule, and only aim to spread distrust and fear. Chavez himself often unveiled supposed assassination plans targeting him, which critics dismissed as cynical efforts to keep voters on a war footing and distract them from daily worries such as violent crime, inflation and corruption.

Capriles also sees the hand of Cuba’s Castro brothers — close allies of the late Chavez — in Maduro’s campaign.

“You can win the elections in Havana. I’m going to win them here in Venezuela,” Capriles said in one of his final speeches.

“I’m not the opposition, I’m the solution! . . . I ask the late president’s supporters to vote for me. Nicolas is not Chavez. Capriles is the guarantee that this country advances.”

He is offering a Brazil-style model that blends pro-business policies with strong spending on social welfare projects, and he says Maduro’s tenure as acting leader has only added to people’s problems with a devaluation and new currency controls.

Capriles says that if he wins he will stop “gifting” Venezuela’s oil wealth to other nations, and will cool ties with distant Chavez-era allies such as Syria, Belarus and Iran.

The U.S. government will be watching the vote closely in the hope of better relations after years of tensions with Chavez.

Despite being often out of sight during his illness, Chavez easily defeated Capriles in last October’s vote. It was his fourth presidential election victory, demonstrating the enduring support for his policies two decades after he burst onto Venezuela’s political scene with a failed coup.

Many supporters say they will stay true to the dying wish of their “commander” and vote for Maduro, whatever they may feel about how he stacks up as successor to the towering Chavez.

“It’s a question of loyalty. It doesn’t matter who the candidate is,” said Luis Vegas, a 23-year-old motorcycle courier from the huge Petare slum in Caracas. “On Sunday, we will show our support for Chavez and continue defending his revolution.”

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Maduro: Chavez as a ‘Bird’ Blessed Bid to Head Venezuela.

Acting President Nicolas Maduro said Hugo Chavez gave his blessing through a small bird on the first day of his official campaign for the presidency as he looks to capitalize on the popularity of the former socialist leader.

Maduro, speaking from Chavez’s home state of Barinas one month after the ex-president’s death, said he went to a chapel to pray when the bird appeared and circled him three times before whistling to him.

“I felt his spirit,” Maduro said in a televised speech broadcast from Chavez’s former home in the town of Sabaneta. “I felt him there as though he were giving us a blessing, saying to us: ‘Today the battle begins. Onwards to victory. You have our blessing.’”

Maduro, whom Chavez named as his successor days before flying to Cuba for an operation to treat an undisclosed form of cancer, is pitted against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski. The former bus driver and union leader who served as foreign minister for six years has called Chavez the “redeemer of the poor” and that he had earned a place in heaven alongside Jesus Christ.

“It is very clear what’s going on here,” said Washington- based Eric Farnsworth, vice president at the Council of the Americas. “He’s trying to claim the mantle of divinity, of being touched by the departed Chavez. The message is anyone who doesn’t vote for Maduro is voting against the wishes of the departed leader.”

Maduro has 55 percent support against 35 percent for Capriles, according to a poll by Caracas-based Hinterlaces. The survey of 1,100 people was carried out between February and March and has a margin of error of 3 percent, the agency said in an e-mail yesterday.

Chavez defeated Capriles by 11 percentage points in an election in October. Maduro is capable of continuing Chavez’s socialist work, Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in a video broadcast yesterday by Venezuelan state television.



© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

Venezuela’s Capriles Cries Foul Ahead of Upcoming Election.

CARACAS, Venezuela — Opposition presidential hopeful Henrique Capriles on Monday said Venezuela’s acting president Nicolas Maduro was unfairly using state media and money to support his campaign.

The accusations came two weeks before voters head to the polls to choose a new president following the death of Hugo Chavez, the socialist leader who dominated Venezuelan politics for 14 years before his death last month.

“The state media have become a propaganda wing of a political party” Capriles alleged, referring to Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor.

In free and fair balloting, candidates are supposed to have the same access and the same rights, Capriles told a news conference.

But Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, is relying on “all of the state’s resources . . . and all of the state’s power structure” to run his campaign, Capriles charged.

He went on to urge the National Electoral Council to be impartial and enforce campaign rules ahead of the April 14 vote.

Maduro, 50, formerly served as Chavez’s foreign minister and vice president. Miranda state governor Capriles, 40, lost to Chavez in October elections.

Chavez, who came to embody a resurgent Latin American left. died March 5 after a long battle with cancer.

© AFP 2013

Google Ignores Christ — Honors Cesar Chavez — on Easter.

Image: Google Ignores Christ — Honors Cesar Chavez — on Easter

By Greg Richter

Anger arose Easter morning when Google chose to honor Latino labor leader Cesar Chavez on its search engine rather than the Christian holiday.

Google has long marked holidays and the birthdays of notable figures by incorporating them into the normally simple logo. But on Sunday two of those fell on the same day: the 86th anniversary of Chavez’s birth and Easter, the day Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and children awaken to see what treats the Easter Bunny has brought them.

Social media was abuzz with reaction:

“Cool for Google to not celebrate Easter but really?!!? Go to . HAPPY Caesar Chavez day everybody! #HELIVES!” conservative pundit Glenn Beck tweeted.

As ABC reports
, Google hasn’t marked Easter with its Google Doodle, as the special artworks are called, since 2000, but that was little comfort to many – especially since rival search engine Bing covered its home page with colorful Easter eggs.

Twitchy, conservative blogger Michelle Malkin’s Twitter curation site, gathered several of the tweets.

“I’ve got nothing against Cesar Chavez, but even Chavez was a Catholic. I doubt he’d want Google to recognize him on Resurrection Day,” tweeted Keith R. Kingsolver @jksolver

“Today’s Google Doodle honors César Chávez, who is shown wearing white resplendent clothes as befits one risen from the dead. Er, wait,” said Esteban Vázquez @voxstefani

But the ecumenical website First Things said that while Google’s decision seemed hard to justify, it was actually fitting, considering Chavez’s own deep Catholic faith.

“As a Christian, Chavez believed that the first revolution had to be a revolution of the soul, which meant that personal sacrifices were demanded — not just of the oppressor, but of the oppressed,” First Things noted.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Venezuelan Police Clash with Protesters Ahead of Vote.

CARACAS — Police fired tear gas in downtown Caracas on Thursday as anti-government student protesters clashed with supporters of late President Hugo Chavez in an increasingly volatile atmosphere ahead of next month’s election.

Several hundred students were marching to the election board’s headquarters to demand a clean vote when they were blocked by government supporters who hurled stones, bottles and eggs at them, a Reuters witness said.
Some of the students threw stones back, other witnesses said.
“We were holding a peaceful march. … All we want is democracy,” said law student Eduardo Vargas, 19, whose eye was injured in the incident. “We’re all Venezuelans. We just want a fair vote.”
Police fired tear gas towards the 150 or so government supporters and formed a cordon between the two sides.
It was the first outbreak of violence since an election was called on April 14 for the South American OPEC nation following Chavez’s death from cancer two weeks ago.
Both candidates, acting President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Henrique Capriles, have been trading personal accusations as they rally supporters for the vote.
One onlooker, Gustavo Malave, a 78-year-old who works for one of the socialist “community councils” set up during Chavez’s 14-year rule, blamed the students for starting the trouble.
“The clash began because the opposition started throwing stones,” he said. “I support Chavez and Maduro. Chavez set this course, and it’s going to continue for 40 or 50 years.”
Before the clash, the students had been marching to the election headquarters singing the national anthem and carrying signs including “Free and fair elections” and “Nicolas is a liar.”
“The students are saying to the world and to the country that we are in the street. We want transparent and free elections,” said one student leader, Victor Fernandez.
Maduro at an evening campaign rally called the students “a small group of recalcitrant right-wing people.”
“None of us can … be provoked by those tiny groups that make a living off hatred,” he said.
He said the group had links to two U.S. diplomats expelled on the day of Chavez’s death on charges they were attempting to conspire with the Venezuelan military.
“I want you to know that those two men directly gave orders and instructions and money to this same group,” he said.
That charge follows a flurry of recent accusations against U.S. authorities including a charge that the State Department is seeking to kill Capriles to spark a coup.
Washington denies the accusation.
With sympathy over Chavez’s death galvanizing government supporters, Maduro, 50, a longtime socialist stalwart, is favorite to win next month’s vote.
Two polls published this week put the former bus driver ahead of Capriles by more than 14 percentage points.
Capriles, a 40-year-old state governor, accuses Maduro of being a nonentity who is exploiting the emotion around Chavez’s death. He wants voters to focus on daily problems confronting Venezuelans ranging from potholes to high crime rates and corruption.
Capriles, a centrist politician who says Brazil’s free-market economics with strong welfare policies is his model for Venezuela, lost to Chavez last year by 11 percentage points.


© AFP/Relaxnews 2013


Venezuela may be unable to embalm Chavez’s remains.

By Mario Naranjo

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela‘s government said on Wednesday it may not be possible to embalmthe remains of late leader Hugo Chavez as planned because the process should have been started earlier.

Chavez died last week aged 58 after a two-year battle with cancer. His body has been on display in a glass-topped coffin at a grandiose military academy in the capital Caracas, where millions of people have filed past to pay homage.

The government had said it planned to embalm Chavez’s remains “for eternity” in much the same way as was done with the remains of Soviet leaders Lenin and Stalin and communist Chinese leader Mao Zedong after they died.

“Russian and German scientists have arrived to embalm Chavez and they tell us it’s very difficult because the process should have started earlier … Maybe we can’t do it,” acting President Nicolas Maduro said in televised comments on Wednesday.

“We are in the middle of the process. It’s complicated, it’s my duty to inform you.”

Government sources said they expected a formal announcement to be made later this week that, despite the efforts of the team involved, it had not been possible to embalm Chavez.

World leaders and celebrities paid a last tribute to the flamboyant late Venezuelan leader at his funeral last week. On Friday, his body is due to be transferred from the military academy to a museum on a hilltop overlooking the Miraflores presidential palace.

Chavez’s death has brought an outpouring of emotion in Venezuela, especially among his millions of mostly poor supporters, many of whom viewed him almost as a religious figure even before his death.

Detractors say the adoration of Chavez is over-the-top and ignores his confrontational style and bullying of opponents. They accuse the government of manipulating emotions around his death to help Maduro win an election scheduled for April 14.

(Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Paul Simao)


By Mario Naranjo | Reuters

Fidel Castro laments loss of ‘best friend,’ Chavez.

HAVANA (AP) — Retired leader Fidel Castro broke nearly a week of silence since the death of friend and ally Hugo Chavez, saying Monday that Cuba has lost its “best friend” with the late Venezuelan president‘s passing.

In an article published on the front page of Communist Party newspaper Granma, Castro said that while it had been clear that Chavez’s life was threatened by a recurring cancer affliction that prompted four surgeries, word of his death on March 5 nonetheless came as a bitter shock.

“The best friend the Cuban people have had in the course of their history passed away. … Although we knew of his critical state of health, the news was a strong blow,” Castro wrote.

The 86-year-old Castro, who has been out of power since a near-fatal intestinal ailment forced him from office in 2006, has ceased penning his once-regular opinion pieces, known as “Reflections.”

Last October, amid the latest round of rumors about his own health, Castro explained that he decided to do so not because he was ill but because they were taking up valuable space in state media that was needed for other purposes.

In life, Chavez often referred to Castro as a father figure, mentor and close friend, and after he first won election in 1998, Havana and Caracas grew increasingly close.

Chavez supplied Cuba with billions of dollars in subsidized oil to help prop up the island’s listing economy, while Havana sent tens of thousands of doctors, teachers, sports trainers and political advisers to work in Venezuela.

Venezuela has become Cuba’s No. 1 trading partner.

Following Chavez’s latest surgery in Havana in December, Castro said he checked in on the Venezuelan president’s health daily.

On Monday, he recalled that Chavez once invited him to go on a riverboat excursion in Venezuela once the two leaders’ “revolutionary task” was finished.

Invoking Cuban independence hero Jose Marti and 19th century Venezuelan liberator Simon Bolivar, Castro said it had been an honor to have been Chavez’s ally.

“Not even he suspected how great he was,” Castro wrote. “Onward to victory always, unforgettable friend!”

Spain’s Prince Felipe arrives with other heads-of-state for the funeral of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the Military Academy in Caracas March 8, 2013, in this picture provided by the … more 
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By PETER ORSI | Associated Press

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