“Presidential candidates Nicolas Maduro and Henrique Capriles (right) have begun Venezuela‘s election race with scathing personal attacks even as mourners still file past the late Hugo Chávez’s corpse,” Reuters reports:
Maduro, who was sworn in as acting president after Chávez succumbed to cancer last week, is seen as the favorite to win the April 14 election, bolstered by an oil-financed state apparatus and a wave of public sympathy over Chavez’s death….Maduro has vowed to continue the socialist policies of Chávez’s 14-year rule in the South American OPEC nation, including the popular use of vast oil revenues for social programs. But Capriles is promising a tough fight.
“Nicolas, I’m not going to give you a free passage … you are not Chávez,” Capriles said in a combative speech late on Sunday. He also accused Maduro of lying to minimize Chávez’s medical condition while he prepared his candidacy.
“Nicolas lied to this country for months,” Capriles said. “You are exploiting someone who is no longer here because you have nothing else to offer the country.”
Chávez’s designated heir, Maduro has ostensibly inherited a chavista movement whose myriad factions are temporarily united in grief for the former leader.
“But beneath the surface, the array of factions Mr. Maduro must contend with seems daunting, from radical armed cells in this city’s slums to privileged bureaucrats with strong ties to Cuba, Venezuela’s top ally, to what is arguably the most powerful pro-Chávez group of all: senior military figures whose sway across Venezuela was significantly bolstered by the deceased leader,” according to The New York Times’ Simon Romero:
Of the 20 states in Venezuela controlled by governors from the United Socialist Party, which Mr. Chávez created to solidify his movement, 11 are led by former military officers. About a quarter of the ministers in Mr. Maduro’s cabinet, which he inherits from Mr. Chávez, rose through the ranks of the armed forces. Powerful military figures remain at the helm of state companies like the Venezuelan Guayana Corporation, a sprawling conglomerate involved in mining gold and producing aluminum.
His military background was not the only formative influence on Chávez, notes The Economist:
He was influenced, too, by Norberto Ceresole [right, with Chávez], an obscure Argentine fascist who advised him when he was first in government. His regime had an anti-Semitic undertone. The notion, peddled by some of his foreign supporters, that Mr Chávez was a moderate radicalised only by implacable opposition both at home and in Washington, does not square with the evidence.
After Chávez became president Ceresole served as his adviser in Venezuela for several years. Their relationship had a lasting effect as Ceresole’s book, “Caudillo, Army, People: The Venezuela of President Chávez” helped lay the ground for Chávez’s Bolivarian strategy.
In his book, Ceresole wrote: “In Venezuela, the change will be channeled through one man, one ‘physical person,’ not an abstract idea or a party….The people of Venezuela created a caudillo [dictator]. The nucleus of power today lies precisely in the relationship established between the leader and the masses.”
Maduro lacks the authoritarian populist’s charisma and ability to forge a coherent coalition from competing factions, analysts suggest.
“Chávez was a master at addressing very different interests and holding them together as the undisputed leader,” said Jennifer McCoy, the Americas program director at the Carter Center in Atlanta. “Maduro has the temperament to talk to different people, and he can be quite reasonable and pragmatic. But he will need all his negotiating skills to manage the competing ideas and interests within the movement.”
Unlike his hero, Fidel Castro, Chávez “derived his legitimacy from the ballot box,” The Economist observes:
He would win three further presidential elections, with comfortable majorities. But he ruled by confrontation and decree, rather than consensus. ….Foreign leftist academics claimed that all this added up to an empowering “direct democracy”, superior to the incipient welfare state set up by Latin America’s social democratic governments. But to others, it looked like a top-down charade of participation, in which all power lay with the president.
Behind the propaganda, the Bolivarian revolution was a corrupt, mismanaged affair.
Whoever succeeds Chávez will inherit a toxic legacy, writes the Progressive Policy Institute’s Will Marshall.
The former president no doubt had his good points, he suggests, citing a balanced assessment by former Venezuelan oil minister Moises Naim:
But he was no friend to democracy. While he enjoyed genuine support in Venezuela’s barrios, greased as well with liberal applications of his country’s oil wealth, Chávez took no chances when it came to holding onto power. He muzzled the media, got a docile legislature to approve constitutional changes concentrating power in his hands and banned foreign contributions to human rights and civil society organizations. He tried to sabotage a neighboring democracy, Columbia, by secretly funding the vicious narco-terrorist FARC insurgency.
“For some on the left, he was a throwback to the good old days of anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-American solidarity,” he writes. “But no real liberal will join the despots in mourning his passing.”