Venezuela’s electoral campaigning has begun, to see who will succeed the late president Hugo Chavez after the 14 April election – even though the political jockeying began in earnest the day he died, on 5 March.
His charisma lives on. His followers cherish the quasi-spritual image he fostered.
“It’s true,” said one acolyte. “He is our Christ, our saint. He is everything to us.”
Nicolas Maduro, who Chavez named as his choice to carry the Bolivarian revolutionary torch after him, in the running to be confirmed in the job, speaks like a true believer, harnessing the power of the legend.
“The Presidential Palace window is exactly opposite the door of Hugo Chavez’s tomb. The people in charge of this country for the next 500 years will have Chavez’s whip right in front of them. He is going to be watching them every day.”
Clearly behind Maduro in voter support, according to opinion polls, is the candidate of the opposition, Henrique Capriles. Fighting to gain political traction, he has called Maduro a poor copy of Chavez. He is trying to kindle real political debate.
Capriles said: “This is about defeating the problems, about defeating violence, inflation, poverty, unemployment, devaluation. That’s what we have to defeat.”
Among the main challenges for whoever wins the presidency will be ensuring the country’s food supply and distribution. One resident in the capital, Caracas, said: “There’s not enough sugar, milk, chicken, bread, flour or meat.”
Violent crime is another serious problem. Going out after dark can mean taking one’s life in one’s hands. Store-owners don’t dare to stay open late. One of them said: “We have to close earlier because of the many robberies. You don’t only get mugged, many people are wounded, or even killed.”
Buildings are not being maintained, even in parts of Caracas that once enjoyed some prestige. Some housing has become uninhabitable, and many places around the capital are littered and dirty.