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Posts tagged ‘Chavez’

Former US Ambassador: Venezuela’s New President May Have Cheated to Win.

The squeak-by election of Nicolas Maduro to succeed Hugo Chavez sits under “a dark cloud’’ of manipulation that doesn’t bode well for U.S. relations with Venezuela, a former U.N. Ambassador to Venezuela says.

“Maduro has insulted the United States and has expelled American diplomats under false charges from our embassy as foreign minister,’’ Otto Reich told Newsmax TV.

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“He presided over alliances between Venezuela and countries like Iran, Russia, Belarus, Syria, and others that are enemies or adversaries of the U.S. or at the very least are criminal enterprises.

“Many of them, brutal killers like Assad in Syria and before Assad, Gadhafi in Libya … So there’s reason to be concerned.’’

Reich — a senior official to Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush — said he doubts Maduro, who was Chavez’s handpicked successor and took just 50.7 percent of the vote, actually “won.’’

“The electoral commission called the election for Maduro, but what a lot of people may not know is that four out of the five members are Chavez appointees, who are not professionals,’’ Reich said.

“They are all ideological supporters of Mr. Madura. So what they have done is to simply announce a result that may or may not be supported by the facts.’’

Henrique Capriles, who lost the election, has demanded a recount — but Reich is skeptical it will go forward.

“Maduro is alleged to have said he will support the recount, but now the very same electoral commission … four of whom are Chavistas, haven’t yet whether they’re going to allow the recount or not,’’ he said.

“So the whole thing is under a very dark cloud … It’s very possible [fraud was committed] because you’re not dealing with a normal democratic and open and transparent government.

“The Maduro forces have manipulated the system … They prevented the opposition from, for example, access to the news media, so it was not a free or fair election.’’

Reich, who also served as Asst. Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, said there are doubts whether other Latin American countries can pull any weight in reforming Venezuela.

“Most Latin American countries, have proven themselves, to put it in the state department double negative, uncourageous. Not exactly brave in standing up to the thugs that run these governments like Cuba’s and Venezuela’s,’’ he said.

“They’re frankly afraid of them because these are violent people, many of whom by the way in the government of Venezuela have been designated as drug kingpins by the U.S. Treasury Department.

“We’re talking here about narcotics traffickers in control of the government of Venezuela. So it’s understandable why the neighboring countries are afraid of them.’’

Reich said the international community should put pressure on Venezuela for a recount and demand it take place under international observation.

“These votes have to be counted in plain sight with observers from all the political parties in Venezuela and ideally with international observers as well,’’ he said.

“I don’t think that the world community can trust the government of Mr. Maduro.’’

He said he is sure Maduro will continue Chavez’s controversial plan of sending oil to Cuba.

“The value of the oil shipments to Cuba from Venezuela is estimated at over $4 billion a year. Compare that with the Soviet subsidies to Cuba of $5 billion and that gives you an idea of how important the Venezuelan gift is to the Castro brothers,’’ Reich said.

“They could probably not survive without Venezuelan charity in the form of oil.’’

He said that if by some miracle, Capriles was declared the winner in a recount, the practice would end immediately.

“Capriles says that he will stop the shipments of oil to Cuba because they represent a drain on the Venezuelan treasury that the Venezuelan people cannot afford,’’ Reich said.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Bill Hoffmann and Kathleen Walter

Venezuela Faces Turmoil, Instability as Maduro Foes Protest Victory.

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelans faced the prospect of extended political instability as the country’s electoral council proclaimed Nicolas Maduro president-elect while opposition supporters marched in the streets to demand a full recount of the April 14 election.

Meanwhile. both sides in Venezuela‘s political stand-off will hold rival demonstrations on Tuesday after authorities rejected opposition demands for a presidential election recount and protesters clashed with police in Caracas.

The late socialist leader Hugo Chavez‘s hand-picked successor Maduro — who had initially said he was open to a recount — called on his supporters to demonstrate all week. The official results showed him winning by 265,000 votes.

He is due to be sworn in on Friday, likely leaving Capriles’ call for protests as more a symbolic show of defiance.

The government dispatched anti-riot forces in Caracas Monday as Maduro, who received 50.8 percent of the vote, was declared the winner. Tear gas was used to disperse protesters who didn’t accept the government refusal to recount the vote as demanded by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski.

“The margin wasn’t as wide as we had expected, and now they think the moment has arrived for a coup,” Maduro told reporters Monday in Caracas. “They are trying to inflame hate and have succeeded with some in the middle class.”

The closest margin of victory in 45 years may lead to an environment of distrust and institutional collapse, said Javier Ciurlizza, director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Crisis Group.

Capriles, who took 49 percent of the vote, said he had evidence of irregularities that affected about 300,000 votes, enough to ensure him a victory.

“I’m not asking for them to proclaim Capriles as the winner,” the 40-year-old opposition leader told reporters in Caracas Monday. “I’m asking that they count each vote. If as a candidate you agreed to a vote-by-vote recount you don’t go running to be proclaimed.”

No Recount

National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said no recount of the 15 million votes cast would occur and that Maduro will be sworn in on April 19.

“The government’s rejection of a reasonable request to recount the vote has polarized the country even further, driving people into the streets,” Ciurlizza said in a phone interview from Bogota. “If opposition supporters lose faith in formal politics, the outbreaks of violence will become unpredictable.”

Hundreds of Capriles supporters marched through eastern Caracas Monday to gather outside his campaign headquarters, waving flags and blowing horns. Elsewhere on a motorway in the capital, National Guard troops fired tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse protesting students, the Associated Press reported.

As Maduro gave a press conference in which he accused his opponents of seeking to incite violence, the opposition in Caracas staged a protest across the city by banging pots and pans for about 40 minutes.

Capriles, the governor of Miranda state, hopes to highlight the weakness of Maduro’s mandate and stir up opposition anger over his charge that the electoral council is biased in favor of the ruling Socialist Party.

But the strategy could backfire if demonstrations turn into prolonged disturbances, such as those the opposition led between 2002 and 2004 that in some instances involved blocking roads for days with trash and burning tires.

A return to prolonged trouble in the streets could renew questions about the opposition’s democratic credentials on the heels of their best showing in a presidential election, and just as Capriles has consolidated himself as its leader.

Weak Footing

Maduro will have to confront accelerating inflation, shortages of consumer goods, and slowing growth.

He is also likely to face internal challenges from other Chavista leaders such as Cabello, Eurasia Group analysts Risa Grais-Targow and Daniel Kerner wrote in a note to clients Monday.

The former union leader and foreign minister has vowed to follow the steps of his mentor Chavez, who increased state control over the economy by nationalizing more than 1,000 companies or their assets and introduced currency and price controls.

Chavez also tapped the world’s biggest oil reserves to help cut poverty to 21.2 percent of the population in the second half of 2012 from 42.8 percent when he first took power in 1999, according to government data.

Son of Chavez

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

“I am the son of Chavez,” Maduro said Monday. “I am the first Chavista president after Hugo Chavez and I am going to fulfill in full his legacy to protect the humble, the poor, the fatherland.”

Maduro called the election a choice between capitalism and socialism. He warned Spain and Madrid-based energy company Repsol SA to “be careful” about their relationship with Venezuela, saying they could face “exemplary actions” from his government. Repsol has stakes in Venezuela’s Carabobo 1 heavy oil project and Perla natural gas field.

As Chavez languished in a hospital bed in Cuba before his death, Maduro oversaw a 32 percent devaluation of the bolivar and expelled two U.S. embassy officials who were accused of plotting against the government. The United States denied the charges.

Inflation accelerated to 25 percent in March, the fastest annual pace in 13 months and the highest official rate in the hemisphere, the central bank said Monday. 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.

“They will be governing for the first time without the substantial political mandate that President Chavez always enjoyed,” Patrick Duddy, a visiting lecturer at Duke University and former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, said in a phone interview from Durham, N.C. “There was hardly a consensus among Venezuelans to deepen the revolution.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Newsmax Wires

Venezuelans Vote on Future of ‘Chavista’ Politics.

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelans decide on Sunday whether to honor Hugo Chavez‘s dying wish for a longtime loyalist to continue his hardline socialism or hand power to a young challenger vowing business-friendly changes.

Acting President Nicolas Maduro had a double-digit lead in most polls, largely thanks to his former boss’s public blessing before he died from cancer last month. But the gap has narrowed in the final days, with one survey putting it at 7 percentage points.

His opposition rival, Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles, says Venezuelans are tired of divisive “Chavista” politics and that his support has surged enough for him to pull off a surprise win.

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Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver who has trumpeted his working-class roots at every rally, is promising to push forward Chavez’s “21st century socialism” if he triumphs.

“We’re going to have a giant victory. The bigger the margin, the more peaceful the country will be,” the brawny, mustachioed Maduro said. “If the gap is smaller, it is only because they (the opposition) managed to confuse a group of Venezuelans.”

The winner will inherit control of the world’s biggest oil reserves in an OPEC nation whose stark political polarization is one of Chavez’s many legacies.

Also at stake is the generous economic aid Chavez provided to left-leaning Latin American governments from Cuba to Bolivia.

From the country’s Caribbean coastline to its cities and jungle interior, polling centers were due to open from 6 a.m. (EST) until 6 p.m. (EST), though voting could run longer if there are still lines.

Both camps have urged supporters to vote early and be on alert for fraud. Given the deep mutual mistrust, a close or contested result could raise the chance of unrest.

Chavez’s fourth presidential election win in October saw record turnout of 80 percent. This time, though, both sides worry that participation could be lower because of election fatigue.

Many Venezuelans could be forgiven for feeling like they are stuck in a never-ending campaign. Opposition primaries early last year were followed by the ailing president’s dramatic re-election, and then a vote to choose state governors in December.

Maduro has cloaked himself in the imagery of Chavez and calls himself the late president’s “son.” At events around the nation, supporters chanted “With Chavez and Maduro, the people are safe!” and “Chavez, I swear to you, I’ll vote for Maduro!”

At every rally, Maduro played a video of Chavez naming him as successor in December – “my firm opinion, clear like the full moon, irreversible” — in his final speech to Venezuelans.

If Maduro wins, he will immediately face big challenges as he tries to stamp his authority on a disparate ruling coalition while lacking his predecessor’s charisma, or the healthy state finances that Chavez enjoyed in last year’s race.

It is hard to forecast how he might do things his own way. Like many senior officials, Maduro was passionately loyal to Chavez and never expressed a different opinion in public.

Supporters say he could use his background as a union negotiator-turned-diplomat to build bridges, perhaps even with the United States after tensions during Chavez’s 14-year rule.

But there has been little sign of his softer side on the campaign trail. Maduro’s rhetoric has veered from outraged – alleging opposition plots to kill him using mercenaries — to light-hearted, such as poking fun at his often-cited tale of how he was visited by Chavez’s spirit in the form of a bird.

More often he has sounded indignant, accusing the “far-right” of plotting a rerun of a short-lived coup against Chavez a decade ago if the opposition loses Sunday’s vote.

For many “Chavistas,” their late leader’s explicit instructions will likely be enough to dispel any doubts they might have about Maduro’s abilities, at least in the short-term.

Capriles, 40, will have an even tougher time if he pulls off an upset. One of the biggest challenges will be to win over suspicious supporters of Chavez and Maduro. Both said over and over that the opposition candidate was nothing more than a pampered “bourgeois” rich kid, a traitor, and worse.

Capriles, who lost to Chavez in October’s election, has denounced Maduro and his “coterie” as fake socialists who have enriched themselves while paying only lip service to Chavez’s deeply held ideology.

“We’re going to decide the future we want – one where public projects are completed and hospitals function, or one where we stay as we are,” he roared at one of his last rallies. “The great majority want to move forward.”

Capriles is offering a Brazil-style model that mixes pro-business policies with heavy state spending on the poor. He says Maduro’s tenure has been a disaster for all Venezuelans, with a devaluation and new currency controls.

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

While he does come from a wealthy family, he has sought to establish his street credibility, riding a motorcycle, playing pick-up basketball games on shantytown courts, and almost always wearing a baseball cap.

He faces an almighty battle, however, to beat the memory of Venezuela’s late leader.

“This election is not Capriles versus Maduro,” said housewife Rosa Elena Marcano, 60, at the opposition’s last rally in western Lara state. “It’s Capriles against Chavez’s ghost.”

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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.

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