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[Newsmaker] Chavez’s legacy could strain his heir

The heir to Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” has secured a mandate to continue what his mentor started ― but only just.

Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked vice president and a former bus driver and union leader, prevailed in Venezuela’s presidential election on Sunday, beating pro-business rival Henrique Capriles by just 1.6 percent of the vote. Capriles has disputed the result, calling for a recount. The country’s electoral commission, stacked with Chavez supporters, has denied this request.

But even if winning is ultimately what counts in politics, Maduro’s narrow victory is no great achievement. Even Chavez’s personal endorsement before his death couldn’t prevent Maduro losing some 670,000 votes compared to Chavez’s fourth election victory in October.
Nicolas Maduro
Nicolas Maduro


But the real casualty is not Maduro’s United Socialist Party, whose agenda has been given the barest of mandates, but Venezuela itself. While something of an unknown quantity to foreign media, Maduro has pledged to continue the socialist economic policies of his predecessor, who nationalized industry, harassed private business, increased state control over the economy and massively boosted social spending.

Although Chavez’s disciples claim to be revolutionary, their prescriptions for Venezuela’s problems are as tired as their anti-U.S. and anti-capitalist rhetoric is asinine, barely worthy of the ramblings of a radical undergraduate.

Statism has been tried before, and always with disastrous results. Chavez’s real talent was to manipulate anti-Western paranoia and convince his public that the country’s vast oil wealth could be used to buy the lower classes out of poverty without wrecking the overall economy. This brand of leftist populism has already spawned rampant corruption, food shortages, runaway inflation and unsustainable debt. Unchecked, these problems, and others, will only get worse.

Maduro may feel he has no choice but to follow the socialist path to its inevitable dead-end to boost his credentials as Chavez’s successor. He may, indeed, genuinely believe that this is the right course. But, in doing so, he risks consigning his country to the scrapheap of failed political experiments.

By John Power (john.power@heraldcorp.com)
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