The Chávez Shadow

Kevin Lees is unimpressed by Venezuela’s new president:

[Nicolás] Maduro, it’s safe to say, is no Chávez. A former Caracas bus driver, Maduro was a loyal Chávez lieutenant from the beginning of the proclaimed Bolivarian revolution, and he served as Chávez’s dutiful foreign minister for six years prior to his elevation to the vice presidency last December. But the skills that allowed Maduro to remain in the top echelons of Chavismo didn’t lend themselves to leading a compelling campaign. His win owes more to the Chavista electoral machine, coercive mobilization tactics, a largely state-dominated media, and the resources that come from a decade of blurring the lines among Venezuela’s governing United Socialist Party (PSUV), PDVSA, and the government. Maduro was undeniably a lackluster candidate, and he wrapped himself in the legacy, and in some cases, the actual godhead, of Chávez—one plucky website tracked how many times Maduro has mentioned Chávez during the campaign (over 7,200). After saying that the United States may have caused Chávez’s terminal cancer, Maduro claimed earlier this month that a little bird spoke to him to tell him that the ghost of Chávez had blessed Maduro’s campaign.

Alejandro Tarre’s view:

Maduro inherits a country in crisis.

Venezuela has among the world’s highest inflation and crime rates, a massive fiscal deficit, and skyrocketing debt—even though it enjoyed its largest oil windfall ever during the Chávez era. It suffers from worsening power outages, crumbling infrastructure, and severe food shortages. The macroeconomic situation is so grave that Maduro was forced to devalue the currency twice before the election to improve the government’s balance sheet. Some forecasters are predicting the economy will contract and the inflation rate will hit 30 percent before year’s end. Consumption and government spending are bound to fall. Poverty will increase.

Had Maduro won with a comfortable margin—something close to the 11-point margin Chávez won over Capriles last October—he would still face steep challenges. Now he enters office with a weak mandate and contested legitimacy.