Venezuela geared up on Tuesday for commemorations to mark the anniversary of socialist leader Hugo Chavez’s death, despite violent protests against his self-proclaimed "son" and successor President Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro, 51, who announced Chavez’s death in tears to a shell-shocked nation on March 5 last year, has made preserving Chavez’s controversial legacy the guiding force of his presidency despite opposition from approximately half of Venezuelans.
The president was to preside over a military parade in Caracas on Wednesday, followed by a ceremony at a marble sarcophagus housing Chavez’s remains.
Latin American allies, including Bolivian leader Evo Morales and Nicaraguan counterpart Daniel Ortega, are expected to attend.
Critics say it is inappropriate to be remembering Chavez and spending money on a military parade when Venezuela has so many pressing problems to resolve. But Maduro appears ready to use Chavez’s almost mythical status to steady his rule as anti-government protests enter their second month.
Maduro narrowly won an election in April 2013 to replace his late mentor, but Venezuela’s economy is floundering despite its oil revenues and the president made little headway against violent crime.
Inflation hit 56 percent last year – the highest in Americas. There are shortages of basic commodities such as cooking oil, flour and toilet paper and one of the highest murder rates in the world keeps people locked inside their homes at night.
Students continued to block some streets in Caracas and other cities on Tuesday, most notably San Cristobal in western Tachira state, on Tuesday in what has become their modus operandi for permanent demonstration, despite annoying many residents.
The demonstrations have brought Venezuela’s worst unrest in a decade, with 18 people killed as demonstrators have faced off with security forces and Maduro supporters.
Thousands march peacefully through the streets by day, but as night falls smaller groups confront authorities who respond with tear gas and rubber bullets.
There seems to be little chance of a Ukraine-style change at the top, given that the numbers on the street are not massive, the military appears to remain behind Maduro, and crucially opposition leaders are not winning over ‘Chavistas’ in poor areas.
Chavez’s face can be found in almost every corner of the capital and portraits of Chavez abound in the countryside as well: the leader wearing a farmer’s sombrero, alongside soldiers in his red beret or greeting children or the elderly.
Maduro often calls himself the son of Chavez and when he makes speeches, there’s often a photo of Chavez somewhere in the frame. The tourism ministry released a short video homage to Chavez – tweeted Tuesday by Maduro – crediting him with marking the start of Venezuelan tourism and teaching Venezuelans to love their country.
At 6am every day, Venezuelans can tune in to state television to hear Chavez sing the national anthem. The same channel plays reruns of his television show, “Hello President,” on the weekends. There was a cartoon that portrayed Chavez meeting other historic figures in heaven.
“Maduro, even though he was hand-picked by Chavez, he doesn’t have the charisma, the ability to engage audiences with him that Chavez had,” said Carolina Acosta-Alzuru, a Caracas native who is an associate professor of media studies at the University of Georgia. “So he repeats, invokes Chavez, calls himself the son of Chavez as much as he can.”
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)
Date created : 2014-03-05