Chávez Protégé Projected to Win Venezuela Election

Polls predict Nicolás Maduro will be able to continue his mentor’s “socialist revolution.”

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and his deputy Nicolás Maduro, October 1, 2011
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Vice President Nicolás Maduro, October 1, 2011 (Prensa Presidencial)

Opinion polls predict that former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez’ chosen successor, acting president Nicolás Maduro, will win Sunday’s election against the centrist candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, allowing the ruling party to continue Chávez’ self-declared socialist revolution

Shortly before he traveled to Cuba late last year where he underwent cancer treatment, Chávez anointed Maduro his successor. “My firm opinion, as clear as the full moon — irrevocable, absolute, total — is that you elect Nicolás Maduro as president,” he said. “He is one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue if I cannot.”

Chávez defeated Capriles in October of last year but died before he could start a fourth term as president. A surge of grief and sympathy bordering on deification of the deceased socialist leader looks certain to propel his deputy Maduro to power. “I am the son of Chávez,” he told supporters during a rally in the capital Caracas on Thursday.

Maduro earlier derided his opponent as a “little bourgeois” and puppet of Venezuela’s wealthy as well as the United States which Chávez routinely accused of meddling in South American politics.

Capriles’ rhetoric has been no less urgent. “Sunday we’re going to choose between life and death,” he said Thursday. “If you want a future, you have to vote for change, for a different government.”

Yet the liberal governor of Miranda state has simultaneously tried to appeal to Chávez supporters and directed his criticism at his heirs whose socialism, he said earlier this month, is “skin deep.”

They talk of socialism but it’s on the surface only. Look how those well connected ones live, what they wear, what cars they go round in, how many bodyguards they have.

Capriles described himself as a “progressive” and said he would imitate the economic and social reforms of Brazil’s former president Lula da Silva, a socialist who opened his country to international trade and investment while spending generously on education and welfare programs. Capriles even denounced the “savage capitalism” of corrupt government officials.

The leftist rhetoric does not appear to have boosted the opposition candidate’s popularity. If he defies the odds and does emerge the victor from Sunday’s election, it will likely be because a majority of Venezuelans realized that Chávez’ “revolutionary” socialism hasn’t much improved their nation’s economic prospects.

Although rich in natural resources, Venezuela has had to cope with energy and food shortages in the latter years of Chávez’ presidency. It is the world’s tenth largest oil exporter but a net importer of refined products due to lack of hydrocarbon industry development since the sector was nationalized.

Inflation in March alone was 2.8 percent, suggesting that the annual rate will top 30 percent by year’s end. “Every day it’s harder to find food and every day food is more expensive,” Capriles said in March. “This model is not viable.”

Most Venezuelans seem to disagree.

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