Supporters of deceased Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez lined the streets and flooded Caracas to mourn his death yesterday, sparking polarizing opinions about Chavez’s infamous socialist rule.
Ending one of Latin America’s most remarkable populist leaderships, Chavez, 58, died yesterday from complications stemming from his battle with cancer. State TV ran images of the outspoken leader and pulled past speeches, all under the headline “Chavez lives.” Even his slogan, “Socialism or Death” (“Socialismo o muerte”) was trending on Twitter in the country, as supporters used it to rally, while detractors mocked the expression; a demonstration that brought to light a country divided about the death of their leader.
Chavez is said to be buried on Friday. But what happens to that divided country and Chavez’s 14-year leftist policies, which won him the adoration of poor Venezuelans, but infuriated opponents who denounced him as a dictator?
According to Reuters, an election is set to take place in 30 days, and the future now rests on the shoulders of Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who Chavez personally picked to succeed him.
“In the immense pain of this historic tragedy that has affected our fatherland, we call on all the compatriots to be vigilant for peace, love, respect and tranquility,” Maduro said. “We ask our people to channel this pain into peace.”
Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader, will probably face opposition from Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda state, in the next election in the OPEC nation with the world’s largest oil reserves.
Authorities said the vote would be called within 30 days, but it was not clear if that meant it would be held, or simply that the date would be announced.
But how will the country take the change?
One recent opinion poll gave Maduro a strong lead over Capriles, in part because he has received Chavez’s blessing as his heir apparent, and he is likely to benefit from the surge of emotion following the president’s death.
Maduro will now focus on marshaling support from Chavez’s diverse coalition, which includes leftist ideologues, business leaders, and radical armed groups called “colectivos.”
Sources say that Maduro might try to ease tensions with Western investors and the U.S. government. But hours before Chavez’s death, Maduro alleged that “imperialist” enemies had infected their President with cancer and expelled two U.S. diplomats accused of conspiring with domestic opponents.
So the real question is, what will Maduro do? Only time will tell.