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Venezuela's Maduro in shadow of charismatic Chavez

media Posters in support of Nicolas Maduro hang in the staunchly Chavista slum of 23 de enero, a stone's throw from the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas. © Girish Gupta

Venezuela is starting to change after the death of Hugo Chavez, and there are huge hurdles to overcome...

At 8pm every night for a whole week after April’s presidential election here, the ritual banging of pots and pans sounded all over Caracas. The so-called cacerolazo is a famous tool of protest all over Latin America, used to demonstrate discontent.

After Hugo Chavez’s death in March, his handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro, who is 50, won a snap election by 1.5 percentage points. That was in stark contrast to the double-digit wins commanded by Chavez during his 14-year tenure and the score revealed much unease with the self-styled government here.

Leader of the opposition, 40-year-old Henrique Capriles - who lost to Chavez himself in October’s election by 11 percentage points - called for protests, though the recount he requested confirmed Maduro’s win.

The narrow margin does reveal a lack of support for the former Foreign Minister, compared to his charismatic predecessor.

José Vicente Rangel, a 66-year-old teacher, said he has always been and always will be a Chavista, as he stood in the main square of Barinas, Chavez’s home state. In April, however, he voted for Capriles.

“Chavez is one thing, Maduro is another. Maduro doesn’t know this country,” he said. “Capriles is a new alternative who proposes new things.”

Yet, Chavez asked Venezuelans to vote for Maduro, should he die, just before he flew to Havana in December for his fourth and final cancer operation. Many of Chavez’s most loyal supporters followed his orders.

“[Chavez] is the only president in the history of this country who has helped the poor,” said Luzmery Roque, 52, a teacher, standing outside the military building which houses Chavez’s body.

“Nicolas [Maduro] is another child of Chavez, another man of the people. Capriles is incapable of feeling what the poor of Venezuela feel.”

Venezuela is suffering shortages of basic items, annual inflation is at an eyewatering 35%, and the country has one of the world’s highest murder rates. The key difference now though is that Chavez is no longer the friendly frontman for a struggling government. Both sides in Venezuela are well aware of this and are looking to take advantage.

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