Venezuela recalls Chávez but conditions are bad for all

One year ago, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced the death of Hugo Chávez, the socialist leader who had governed the country for 14 years, and vowed to preserve his mentor’s legacy.

Today, worsening economic conditions, soaring crime and growing protests nationwide have many questioning whether Maduro can keep the Chavista coalition together absent the late president’s charismatic leadership.

Followers of the late Venezuelan leader took to the streets Wednesday to mark the anniversary of his death. Among Chávez supporters, affection for the charismatic leader still runs high.

But there is also growing anger and frustration about the direction the country is heading.

Inflation hit 56 percent last year. There are shortages of basic commodities such as cooking oil and flour and one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Student-led anti-government demonstrations are heading into their second month and have in some cases turned deadly as protesters clashed with national guard officers and police.

Ronn Pineo, a Latin America analyst with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs who admired Chávez, says many people are losing faith in his successor, President Maduro.

“Maduro is not that man,” he said. “And part of what we are seeing now is an individual who just doesn’t have the same level of charisma. He’s not as savvy politically.”

Still, Venezuela’s worsening conditions have not changed the country’s political dynamics, says analyst Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue.

“A lot of the discontent extends to the people who supported Chávez,” he said. “What hasn’t happened is that many of those people have come over to the opposition.”

In the most recent municipal elections in December, the ruling socialist parties bested the opposition.

Support for the social programs that Chávez initiated that greatly reduced poverty and improved health care remain popular.

But Pineo says Maduro has been unwilling or unable to make needed reforms to protect the sustainability of these programs, as his mentor had done in the past.

“Chávez went too soon,” he said. He wasn’t given enough of an opportunity to finally cement into place some of the things that he had built, he added.

While Maduro has called for dialogue to deal with the nation’s problems, observers say his inaction so far has tarnished the legacy of Hugo Chávez.

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