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 Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

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

Peru's PM, Government to Resign After Censure Vote

Move delivers a blow to President Ollanta Humala, who will now have to form another new government
More

Argentine Workers Strike Over Income Tax Rate

With economy already weak, public transport stops, many businesses close and garbage piles up on one-day walkout
More

Tickets Go on Sale for 2016 Rio Olympics

More than half of the 7.5 million tickets will cost 70 Brazilian reais ($22) or less
More

US, Cuba Hold First Formal Talks on Human Rights

Issue contentious for conservative Republicans as President Barack Obama seeks to restore diplomatic ties
More

US State Dept Official: Cuba Aims to Ramp Up Internet Access

Cuba, a few decades late to the Internet era, is committed to getting the web into 50 percent of its households by 2020, a senior official said on Monday
More

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

World's largest gamma ray observatory will be situated high in Sierra Negra Mountain to discover secrets about black holes and supernovas
More