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Winner of Venezuela's Presidential Vote to Face Challenges

  • Brian Padden

In Venezuela both Acting President Nicolas Maduro and his opponent Henrique Capriles have wrapped up their election campaigns to replace President Hugo Chavez, who died from cancer last month.

Nicolas Maduro, the former union leader who became President Chavez's vice president in 2012, ended his campaign with a massive rally in Caracas.

He has vowed to continue the socialist programs for the poor initiated by his predecessor. But he has also made a number of unsubstantiated charges that the U.S. and right wing groups may have been involved in poisoning Chavez, trying to assassinate him and disrupt the election.

Philip Brenner, a professor of international relations at Washington's American University, says he was surprised that Maduro, who is significantly ahead in the polls, felt the need to attack the U.S.

“To make crazy charges [about] being poisoned and about efforts for the U.S. to corrupt the election without any evidence, he didn't need to make these charges, and I'm surprised he did,” he said.

The opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost in the presidential election last year to Chavez, held his closing rally in the central city of Barquisimeto. The former state governor has criticized the government's efforts to fight crime and deal with food shortages, double-digit inflation and frequent power outages.

But Manuel Suarez Mier, an economist at American University, says Capriles has not laid out a clear alternative to Chavez' socialist agenda.

“Everything seems to revolve around Chavez. The opposition to some extent is highlighting the Chavez legacy, which is a disaster,” said the economist.

Prior to the election, the state-owned supermarkets were well-stocked with subsidized goods. But customers says shortages of items like milk, butter and corn flour are common occurrences. Suarez Mier says the next president will have to curb spending to deal with the country's growing deficits.

“Even with the humongous revenues the Venezuelan government has obtained from very high oil prices, the deficit as a proportion to GDP, the public deficit, has hit an all time record of 15 percent,” he said.

These analysts say neither candidate has the broad support that Chavez enjoyed during his 14-year tenure as president. Whoever is elected the next president will be dealing with a new more fractured political landscape.
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