News / Americas

Chavez Gone, Family Still has Clout in Venezuela

Venezuela's acting President and Presidential candidate Nicolas Maduro (2nd R), his wife Cilia Flores (2nd L) sit with brother of late President Hugo Chavez, governor of Barinas Adan Chavez (R), and President Chavez's son-in-law, Venezuela's Vice President Jorge Arreaza, as they attend a ceremony in the state of Barinas, Apr. 2, 2013.
Venezuela's acting President and Presidential candidate Nicolas Maduro (2nd R), his wife Cilia Flores (2nd L) sit with brother of late President Hugo Chavez, governor of Barinas Adan Chavez (R), and President Chavez's son-in-law, Venezuela's Vice President Jorge Arreaza, as they attend a ceremony in the state of Barinas, Apr. 2, 2013.
Reuters
Sitting under the shade of mango trees in the childhood backyard of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro kicked off his election campaign with a sentimental chat with members of the ex-president's family.
          
Chavez's five brothers regaled Maduro, the acting president, with stories of how they played marbles and ate mangoes as children on the grassy lawn. It was all part of Maduro's efforts to highlight his ties to the symbolically important family ahead of the presidential election on Sunday.
 
“The family is here with you, fulfilling Chavez's orders and his legacy, so Nicolas Maduro can be ratified by the people to continue accelerating the Bolivarian revolution,” said Chavez's brother Adan, referring to the late leader's socialist movement.
 
Perhaps inadvertently, the televised event was also a “who's who” of powerful government officials: Chavez's son-in-law, who is the vice president, a cousin who is second-in-command at state oil giant PDVSA, and Adan, who is the governor of their home state of Barinas.
 
Chavez's death last month shook the OPEC nation after 14 years of his self-styled socialist revolution. But it has done little to curb the influence of relatives whose blood ties to the messianic leader helped them gain considerable power.
 
Supporters of Chavez, a charismatic anti-poverty crusader whose social spending won him the adoration of millions, see his immediate family as a symbol of the humble roots that gave birth to his “21st century socialism.”
 
Opposition critics deride them as a nepotistic clan that wields undue influence. In western Barinas, where Chavez grew up, adversaries slam them as an ersatz royal family that treats the sweltering plains state as their fiefdom.
 
Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and the late president's anointed successor, describes himself as a “son” of Chavez and has made the immediate family a central part of his campaign for the April 14 election.
 
He told stories of how, in the wake of the failed 1992 coup  that made Chavez famous, he used to meet with Chavez's brothers Argenis and Adan, ducking in and out of Caracas metro cars to ditch intelligence officers who were following them.
 
“You are the brother of our commander Hugo Chavez, and we are his sons, which means you are our uncle and protector, a leader of this revolution,” Maduro told Adan Chavez onstage at a rally in Barinas.
 
Broad influence

 
Chavez's vitriolic insults, sweeping nationalizations and steady concentration of power during his rule led millions to revile and dismiss him as a dictator.
 
But his nationalism and generous social spending also drew a near-religious following among the poor, and his cult of personality and micro-managing style left everyone from street activists to cabinet ministers scrambling for his attention.
 
Those with family connections rose through the ranks, and even after his death they remain key power brokers.
 
His daughters Rosa Virginia and Maria Gabriela served at public events as stand-in first ladies for the twice-divorced Chavez, and were highly visible during the mourning following his death.
 
They have been important figures in Maduro's campaign to reinforce his ties to Chavez, but have little evident political influence nor ambition.
 
Rosa Virginia in 2007 married leftist activist Jorge Arreaza, who went on to become science minister and later Chavez's bedside companion during the late president's final weeks.
 
He was sworn-in as vice president by Maduro hours after Chavez's grand state funeral, standing alongside the glass-topped coffin of his late father-in-law.
 
Chavez's cousin Asdrubal rose in less than five years from being a manager of a small oil refinery to vice president of PDVSA. Another of Chavez's brothers, Argenis, runs the national electrical utility and is deputy electricity minister.
 
Adan Chavez won the backing of the ruling Socialist Party to be elected in 2008 and 2012 as governor of Barinas, a post previously held by Chavez's father, Hugo de los Reyes Chavez.
 
The late president's sympathizers scoff at the idea the family has undue influence or has benefited from nepotism, and insist they should continue to play a big role in politics if Maduro wins Sunday's election, as is expected.
 
“That's just speculation, trying to make people believe that they have improperly taken something for themselves,” said Miguel Angel Leon, a pro-government legislator in Barinas.
 
“They've earned what they have because of the political work they've done and the support they have as leaders.”
 
Opinion polls give Maduro a lead of between 10 and 20 percentage points although his opponent, Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles, hopes the surge of sympathy over Chavez's death will wear off before Sunday.
 
Family ties
 
Reuters was unable to reach family members for comment. The governorship of Barinas did not answer phone calls, and the mayor of the municipality that includes Chavez's hometown - another brother - was unable to schedule an interview.
 
Venezuela's opposition, which has a relatively small presence in Barinas, has for years leveled a barrage of corruption accusations against the family. They deny them, and note that no official charges have been brought against any of Chavez's relatives.
 
Wilmer Azuaje, who is now a state legislator in Barinas, has accused Chavez's family of buying several large estates in the area, alleging that they used a family cook of limited financial means as a straw buyer.
 
“They're the ones with the most expensive cars, with the most expensive houses,” said Azuaje.
 
“This year we're really going to go after the corruption by the Chavez family.”
 
The family and Chavez's supporters accuse Azuaje himself of corruption, noting that he lost his seat in the National Assembly over alleged tax irregularities.
 
Supporters of Chavez's family in Barinas say they are humble and true to their origins, and cite achievements of the local government such as investments in healthcare and improvement of roads under the leadership of Adan Chavez.
 
“They need to continue supporting the revolution,” said Ender Puerta, a 45-year-old lawyer interviewed near Maduro's rally in Barinas. “Their presence will be very important because they gave us Chavez, the kind of man who only appears once every 500 years.”

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

More Americas News

Mexico Captures Zetas Drug Kingpin in Another Blow to Cartels

Arrest is second high-profile capture of a kingpin in past week and a boost to President Enrique Pena Nieto's efforts to battle organized crime
More

Colombia Detains China Cosco Shipping Vessel Over Illegal Arms

The detained vessel, operated by Cosco Shipping Co Ltd, was headed for Cuba when it was stopped; the illegal cargo was detected during an inspection
More

Weapons Found on Chinese-Flagged, Cuba-Bound Ship

Authorities in Cartegena, Colombia, detained ship Saturday; captain faces trafficking charges
More

US Weighs Venezuela’s Order to Cut US Embassy Staff

US State Department dismisses Caracas’ charge of undermining government as ‘baseless’
More

Venezuela Lets Uruguay Pay for Oil With Goods, Services

Struggling economy, currency controls in Venezuela have led to shortages of medicine, toilet paper, flour, shampoo, other basic goods
More

US Proposes Making Radio Marti, Broadcaster to Cuba, Independent

Officials say proposal was unrelated to Cuba outreach and aimed at modernizing the broadcaster
More