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-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    More Americas News

    Video Artist Federico Uribe Turns Agents of Death Into Living Beauty

    Animal sculptures, brightly colored landscapes Uribe creates with bullet shells now on display at Adelson Gallery in New York

    Quebec Museum Offers New Connections to Culture

    City's National Museum of Fine Arts provides boost to Francophone art by doubling exhibition space, unveiling 400 new works

    Panama Opens Canal Expansion

    $5.4 billion expansion project will double shipping capacity and impact global trade routes

    TransCanada Sues US Over Keystone Pipeline Cancellation

    Oil company is seeking $15B to recover costs and other losses related to project that was to carry oil from western Canada to Gulf of Mexico refineries

    Panama Set for Official Opening of Canal Expansion

    Nine-year, $5.4B project will permit transit by new generation of cargo ships that will double capacity, affect global trade routes