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Latest update : 2014-03-05

Maduro and Venezuela wrestle with Chavez legacy

© FRANCE 24

It's a year to the day since Venezuela lost its iconic and divisive leader Hugo Chavez. In those 12 months, the country has seen food shortages and violent demonstrations against the man Chavez chose as his successor, President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro will oversee 10 days of commemorative activities and a military parade in Caracas on Wednesday, followed by a ceremony at a marble sarcophagus housing Chavez’s remains.

On the eve of the celebrations, FRANCE 24 visited the capital Caracas to speak to Venezuelans about life after Chavez.

On our arrival, it is clear that the legend of the man known as “El Commandante” lives on. Images of the “Eternal Commander” are plastered on billboards and walls throughout the bustling capital.

There are even shops dedicated to the cult of Chavez that resemble museums.

Cult of Chavez

“In killing Che Guevara, the Americans thought they had killed the revolution,” José Riviera, who runs one such shop, told FRANCE 24. “It was an error. ‘El Che’ is still selling very well and so is Chavez. The Americans have poison so I'm sure they killed Chavez – still I've never sold as many Chavez products as I sell today”, he said.

But, he added, “I have very little Maduro product.”

It appears that Maduro does not stir the same passion.

Despite this, Chavistas largely remain loyal to their hero's dying wish that they support Maduro. Many of them regularly gather on the capital’s Bolivar Square to show their support for their idol's protégé.

“Maduro is the ideal president,” one of the Chavistas, Ismael Carbona, told FRANCE 24. “He's the only one who can continue Chavez's work and remain faithful to our socialist principles. Of course he could never live up to Chavez but he has the same vision as him, the same ideas... this is why the people love him.”

Economically at least Maduro is treading the same path. He continues his predecessor’s “war” against capitalism and imports of basic products, like milk and flour. Venezuelans are used to these policies, as they have been living with them for over a decade, but this year the shortages have been particularly telling.

“There is nothing here, and what there is, is overpriced. I have a lot on my shopping list, but I could only buy what I found,” one shopper in a bare supermarket told FRANCE 24.

The country is facing runaway inflation, which hit a record 56 percent in 2013.

One Caracas shopper told FRANCE 24 that prices for basic products can skyrocket overnight.

Maduro ‘a caricature’ of Chavez

The economic crisis has seen Maduro's popularity nosedive to below 50 per cent, a number that threatens his legitimacy as president.

“Maduro's not been able to create his own political identity,” Luis Vicente Leon, a political scientist told FRANCE 24. “He's only imitated Chavez but without his charisma, without his intelligence, without his natural authority, without his popularity and without even his sense of humour. He remains a caricature of Hugo Chavez.”

Protests have engulfed the country since February 12, with protestors carrying placards that mock the president, his policies, and even his moustache.

Students appear to be leading the charge against Maduro and are demanding he step down.

“The country was better under Chavez,” said Freddy Figueroa, student leader. “At least under Chavez, he had a firm grip on power. There was real stability, even if things weren't perfect, it still felt like someone was in charge of the county. At the moment it seems like the government doesn't really control anything.” 

By Pierre-Philippe BERSON

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