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Venezuela's Next President to Face Economic Challenges, Social Divide

  • Pamela Dockins

Henrique Capriles, Venezuela's opposition leader and governor of Miranda state, addresses the media in Caracas March 10, 2013.

Henrique Capriles, Venezuela's opposition leader and governor of Miranda state, addresses the media in Caracas March 10, 2013.

An intense political battle is under way in Venezuela as opposition leader Henrique Capriles gears up to challenge acting President Nicolas Maduro in the April 14 presidential election. Analysts say the winner of the race will face daunting challenges in rebuilding the country following the March 5 death of longtime leader Hugo Chavez from cancer.

Supporters of opposition leader Henrique Capriles cheered after he told them he would fight for Venezuela, no matter the costs.

If elected, he could face a challenge in keeping that promise.

Council of the Americas Vice President Eric Farnsworth says President Chavez did not leave the country in good shape for a successor.

"President Chavez left Venezuela burdened with a huge amount of debt which is going to be difficult to service," said Farnsworth. "He left an economy that is highly dependent on one product, oil, and if that continues, that is going to be a problem.”

Ray Walser is a policy analyst for Latin America at the Heritage Foundation. He tells VOA the opposition may seek a more balanced, representative democracy. But, he says it will also have to work on eliminating "rhetoric."

"Just getting rid of all of the hate rhetoric that was so much a part of the Chavez movement. Chavez, 'if you are with me, you’re ok. If you’re not with me, you are the lowest, vilest form of life there is.' This is the polarizing rhetoric," said Walser.

Walser says regardless of who wins the election, the new government will have to deal with a deeply divided country.

"Basically you have a divide between those who are accepting an authoritarian model, which is basically a model of Chavismo, and those who would like to see the restoration of a democratic system, separation of powers," he said.

He says all stratas of society are represented on both sides of the divide.

Farnsworth says the late President Chavez did manage to tap into a "deep vein" of history, hope and aspiration that has run across Latin America for many years.

That could bode well for acting President Maduro. He served as Chavez's vice president and was named as his provisional successor.

Opposition leader Capriles lost the last presidential election to Chavez. Capriles called Maduro's inauguration as acting president a "constitutional fraud."

Both Walser and Farnsworth commented on VOA's Encounter program.