Venezuela Enters Post-Chavez Era


Supporters of Venezuelan President-elect Nicolas Maduro meet on April 15, 2013, in the capital of Caracas to celebrate his election to succeed Hugo Chavez.

Venezuela is entering a new era. The larger-than-life figure of Hugo Chavez, the Socialist leader who ruled the Caribbean South American country for 14 years, has passed; he died of cancer on March 5. Now his hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, has won the presidency in his own right—though by the thinnest of margins, 50.8% to 49%. The bitterly fought election was followed by outbreaks of violence that left eight dead and dozens injured. Both sides blamed the other for inciting the violence. The opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, called for a recount, alleging election violations—inconsistent ballot counts, tampering with voting machines, and harassment at the polls. Maduro claimed the United States was behind the opposition violence.

It seems safe to say there will never be another Hugo (pronounced “OO-go”). The legacy of Chavismo, as Chavez’s populist platform was known, will likely overshadow the new president. Despite the political turmoil surrounding the election, many of the changes that Chavez brought to Venezuelan society are likely to endure. Chavez instituted numerous social-welfare programs targeted at poorer Venezuelans, who provided most of his political support. He redistributed the country’s oil export revenues to benefit the poor, which make up 60 percent of Venezuelan households.

Maduro has vowed to continue Chavez’s policies. But the country is deeply divided politically, and many hope that Chavez’s demise will lead to a more open democracy. Among other problems, Maduro faces a determined opposition, emboldened by the closeness of the election. An audit of the vote is under way, leaving the new president on somewhat uncertain footing. About 65 percent of Venezuelans believe their government is corrupt, and three in four say they feel unsafe walking the streets of their neighborhoods at night. Besides government corruption and crime, Venezuela also is in the grips of an economic crisis of high unemployment and inflation.

Image credit: © Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

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