News / Americas

Analysis: Rough Honeymoon for Venezuela, Maduro

Venezuelan soldier on patrol at the slum of Petare, Caracas, May 23, 2013.
Venezuelan soldier on patrol at the slum of Petare, Caracas, May 23, 2013.
Reuters
Wearing sports gear in the national colors and sitting on a sofa in a modest family home, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds a microphone, chats with locals and expounds on the benefits of socialism.
 
Variations of the scene — on a factory floor, playing soccer in the presidential palace or walking the plains with farmers — play daily on national TV as Hugo Chavez's successor makes "Gobierno en la Calle," or "Street Government," the chosen slogan of his rule.
 
Almost constantly on the road since being elected in April, Maduro has launched a plethora of new schemes, from raising the minimum wage to sending soldiers into city slums to fight crime.
 
President Nicolas Maduro at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, June 14, 2013.President Nicolas Maduro at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, June 14, 2013.
x
President Nicolas Maduro at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, June 14, 2013.
President Nicolas Maduro at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, June 14, 2013.
Trumpeting his modest background as a bus driver and union activist, he continually reminds Venezuelans he is the South American nation's first "worker president," guaranteed to empathize with the poor and thus continue Chavez's legacy.
 
The avuncular images that Maduro, 50, has been promoting, however, cannot hide the tough realities he has inherited: an economy verging on recession, a ruling Socialist Party (PSUV) under some strains from within, and an impatient populace.
 
Such pressures make him vulnerable going forward, both to a newly confident opposition and potential rivals inside the PSUV, though there is no formal mechanism to challenge Maduro before a recall referendum allowed three years into his presidency.
 
"We're behind him, but he has to be behind us too, like Chavez was," said Eglis Rodriguez, a 39-year-old housewife and mother of three waiting to see Maduro at a "Street Government" event in the poor Macarao neighborhood on the edge of Caracas.
 
"He must not forget that he got in thanks to the votes of the poor," she said. "We put him there and we can remove him."
 
Far from enjoying a newly elected president's customary honeymoon, Maduro's ratings have stayed stuck around the level of his April 14 victory — by 50.6 percent to 49.1 against the opposition — or have even dropped, according to some pollsters.
 
He has struggled, sometimes awkwardly, to replicate Chavez's famous charisma and connection with the masses.
 
Maduro argues that his mentor's old foes in the private media and Venezuela's "fascist" right wing are doing their best to sabotage his government, from plotting to assassinate him to ignoring his flagship policies such as the drive against crime.
 
The opposition, delighted at winning nearly half the votes in April yet bitter at being deprived of the prize by what they claim was electoral fraud, says Maduro's incompetence and illegitimacy are ever more evident to Venezuelans.
 
Yet opposition leader Henrique Capriles' formal challenge to Maduro's election win is running out of steam: The election board ratified his loss after an audit and the Supreme Court is also likely to give short shrift to his allegations.
 
Though the United States has been lukewarm, Latin American neighbors have embraced Maduro as president.
 
Opposition waiting game

So Capriles, 40, appears to be biding his time and is casting local elections in December as a referendum on Maduro. Right now, though, most Venezuelans are more concerned with day-to-day economic realities than big-picture politics.
 
Shortages of basic goods ranging from toilet paper to flour have been an embarrassment to the government, while monthly price increases hit a 17-year high in May at more than six percent.
 
Growth in the OPEC nation slowed to a paltry 0.7 percent in the first quarter, despite high oil prices. And the local bolivar currency fetches five times more on the black market than at the official, controlled rate.
 
"When you shop now you have to queue for four hours. I never experienced that before. We were better with Chavez ... Maduro needs to get his skates on," said Carmen Natera, 60, another government supporter and mother of four, at the Macarao event.
 
The feistier attitude from grassroots supporters, who worshipped Chavez and would seldom criticize him directly, is reflected at all levels.
 
There is more criticism within the ruling party, where one faction revolves around the powerful Congress president and party No. 2, Diosdado Cabello.
 
The president is also sometimes openly challenged by the public at events.
 
And Venezuela's biggest private company, food and drinks maker Polar, which generally kept quiet in confrontations with Chavez, spoke out quickly when criticized by Maduro.
 
Amid it all, Maduro has lurched between fierce Chavez-style rhetoric and the pragmatism that many think comes more naturally to him.
 
In recent days, he has met business and church leaders to try and bury some hatchets from the Chavez era. And authorities have released from house arrest a judge whose detention since 2009 was a cause célèbre for human rights activists.
 
"Chavez was a military man and believed in defeating the enemy. Maduro was a union activist, he believes in negotiating with the enemy," said pollster Luis-Vicente Leon.
 
There has as yet been no rapprochement between Maduro and Capriles, and their bitter attacks on each other illustrate a political polarization as stark as at any time under Chavez.
 
Much now depends on how Maduro is able to handle the economy, and whether that will weigh further on his popularity or strengthen the Cabello-led faction within the PSUV.
 
With orthodox socialist heavyweights such as Planning Minister Jorge Giordani still wielding substantial influence while others push for liberalization, Maduro faces hard decisions about currency controls, price caps, and other once sacred cows.
 
The most famous aspect of Chavez's economic policy — nationalizations — appears to have been quietly shelved.
 
But Maduro may balk at the political cost of another devaluation, something many economists see as inevitable, or a loosening of the foreign exchange regime to get more dollars into the hands of importers.
 
Leon, the pollster, said the opposition actually had an interest in keeping Maduro in power until a 2016 referendum — as an earlier exit would more likely lead to a PSUV replacement.
 
"Their best chance is [a referendum] in three years against a Maduro who is destabilized but still in power," he said.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

CONCACAF Details Rebuilding Plans After FIFA Scandal

North and Central American and Caribbean soccer body publishes anti-corruption proposals Monday after its two of its officials were implicated in racketeering
More

Thousands Camp Out for Pope's First Mass in Ecuador

Pilgrims converge on coastal city of Guayaquil; after Ecuador, pope heads to Bolivia and Paraguay
More

Pope Begins South America Tour With Ecuador Mass

Thousands of worshipers camped out overnight in Ecuador awaiting Pope Francis, who began tour with open-air service in southwestern city of Guayaquil
More

Pope Starts 8-Day Trip to South America

Francis says he wants to emphasize plight of impoverished people in three countries - Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay - he is visiting
More

Right to Die: Colombian Man Ends Life with Government Backup

After heated public debate and last-minute legal challenges, 79-year-old becomes first Colombian to die as result of government-sanctioned euthanasia
More

3 Mexican Journalists Assassinated in Week

Rights groups call on Mexican authorities to thoroughly investigate recent murders in Oaxaca, Veracruz and Guanajuato
More