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

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    More Americas News

    Colombia Says 2 More Journalists Missing in Rough Area

    Journalists missing in region where security forces are already carrying out massive search for prominent Spanish journalist, President Juan Manuel Santos said Tuesday

    Cuba to Legalize Small, Medium-sized Private Businesses

    Move could significantly expand space allowed for private enterprise in one of world's last communist countries

    Coca Cola to Halt Some Production in Venezuela

    Sugar shortages and a deep recession have been forcing production shutdowns across the country

    Recording Allegedly Shows Minister Plotting Against Brazil's Rousseff

    Planning Minister Romero Jucá, who will step down temporarily, denies allegation, says words in published transcript of tape were taken out of context

    Mercury Poisoning Prompts Peru to Declare State of Emergency in Amazon

    People, rivers and fish poisoned; government blames illegal gold mining

    Peru's Fujimori Faces Money-laundering Investigation

    Probe opened in March, but became widely known Friday after report in Lima newspaper; investigation is focused on alleged suspicious financial transactions and campaign contributions