Venezuela, After Chavez – RantAWeek

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Venezuela, After Chavez

Posted by Tyler Miksanek on January 19, 2014 at 11:56 pm

Hugo Chavez, the longtime leftist leader of Venezuela, died in March 2013 after a long battle with cancer.  Over his fourteen years of ruling Venezuela, Chavez worked to nationalize many of the nation’s industries, socializing the country while also building a cult of personality around himself.  While Chavez was able to pass on his socialist visions to his handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro, Maduro lacks the cult of personality that Chavez employed so successfully to garner support for his policies.

Maduro’s lack of a public mandate manifested itself early on after Chavez’s death.  Despite Chavez naming Maduro as the man to replace him, emergency elections held after Chavez’s death left Maduro with a thin 200,000 vote lead over center-right opponent Henrique Capriles.  More recent local elections confirmed that opposition to both Maduro’s party and policies remains strong.

There’s good reason for discontent with Maduro’s socialist policies.  Economic problems that first surfaced during the end of Chavez’s reign have only intensified during Maduro’s first few months in office.  The nation has faced shortages of staple goods like sugar, milk and toilet paper as price controls set by the central government have limited supply.  Inflation, a common woe for emerging Latin American economies, has skyrocketed to dangerous levels.  While developed economies are happy with a 2% inflation rate, Venezuela has been dealing with inflation rates upward of 50%, well above normal levels.  To add fuel to the fire, growth rates are slipping, threatening a possible recession.

Chavez could always rely on his cult of personality to help him power past economic difficulties and limit criticism.  Unfortunately for Maduro, the economy is even worse now than it was under Chavez, and he has no similar cult of personality he can use to deflect blame.  Whether or not Maduro can strong-arm the economy back to relative stability is likely to be the main decider of public opinion toward his leadership.

However, Maduro faces problems that go beyond the economy.  Violence within the country has also shown a marked increase during his first few months in office.  Venezuela had violence problems even when Chavez was in power.  Still, Venezuela’s history of violence did not stop a 14% rise in homicides in 2013 alone.  One murder in particular, that of former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear, has attached a face to the rising violence.  Spear had transformed herself into a popular television star since her days as a model, and her widespread fame in Venezuela makes her the most well-known example of the government’s failure to control the murder rate.  Maduro announced a plan to increase the police presence during his first days in office, and the failures of this plan to ameliorate the worsening problems with violence bodes poorly for his effectiveness in office.

Chavez was able to enforce a strict status quo on Venezuelan politics, but Maduro’s newcomer stance leaves him in a much weaker position.  Maduro has faced a rocky first few months of power, but it is his response to Venezuela’s growing woes that will define his presidency and determine the nation’s direction forward.  Hopefully, his 2014 will be better than his 2013.

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