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Venezuela's Worsening Conditions Threaten Chavez Legacy

  • Brian Padden

One year ago, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the death of Hugo Chavez - the socialist leader who had governed the country for 14 years - and vowed to preserve his mentor’s legacy.

Today, worsening economic conditions, soaring crime and growing protests nationwide have many questioning whether Maduro can keep the Chavista coalition together - absent the late president's charismatic leadership.

Followers of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez took to the streets Wednesday to mark the anniversary of his death. Among Chavez supporters, affection for the charismatic leader still runs high.

But there is also growing anger and frustration about the direction the country is heading.

Inflation hit 56 percent last year. There are shortages of basic commodities such as cooking oil and flour and one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Student-led anti-government demonstrations are heading into their second month and have in some cases turned deadly - as protesters clashed with National Guard officers and police.

Ronn Pineo, a Latin America analyst with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs who admired Chavez, says many people are losing faith in his successor President Maduro.

“Maduro is not that man," he said. "And part of what we are seeing now is an individual who just doesn’t have the same level of charisma. He’s not as savvy politically.”

Still, Venezuela's worsening conditions have not changed the country's political dynamics, says analyst Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue.

“A lot of the discontent extends to the people who supported Chavez," he said. "What hasn’t happened is that many of those people have come over to the opposition.”

In the most recent municipal elections in December, the ruling socialist parties bested the opposition.

Support for the social programs that Chavez initiated - that greatly reduced poverty and improved health care - remain popular.

But Pineo says Maduro has been unwilling or unable to make needed reforms to protect the sustainability of these programs, as his mentor had done in the past.

“Chavez went too soon," he said. "He wasn’t given enough of an opportunity [to] finally cement into place some of the things that he had built.”

While Maduro has called for dialogue to deal with the nation’s problems, observers say his inaction so far has tarnished the legacy of Hugo Chavez.

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