As Venezuelans mourn Chavez, election set for mid-April

CARACAS Sat Mar 9, 2013 6:54pm EST

1 of 14. A woman places a replica figurine of the Virgen de Lujan during a rally honouring late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez outside the Venezuela's Embassy in Buenos Aires March 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Enrique Marcarian

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela will hold a presidential election on April 14, officials said on Saturday, as acting President Nicolas Maduro tries to benefit from an emotional outpouring for his late mentor, Hugo Chavez, and win his own term in office.

Maduro, a physically imposing former union leader who served as foreign minister and vice president under Chavez, has vowed to keep Chavez's self-styled socialist revolution alive.

He will likely face off against Henrique Capriles, 40, the centrist governor of Miranda state. Capriles, who lost to Chavez in a vote last October, thanked Venezuela's opposition coalition on Saturday for backing him as its candidate, but stopped short of explicitly accepting the nomination.

Opinion polls have shown Maduro as the likely winner, but Chavez's opponents said they wanted a chance to end "Chavismo" at the voting booth. "We want change. We are tired of the Chavez era. It's been 14 years," said Yesenia Herrera, 33, a cook at a Chinese restaurant in an affluent quarter of Caracas.

Maduro was sworn in as acting president in Congress on Friday and handed the red, yellow and blue presidential sash.

"I asked (the election authority) to comply with legal and constitutional obligations and immediately call elections," Maduro, 50, told Congress as he cemented his position as heir-in-waiting.

Chavez was immensely popular among the poor and they have vowed to back Maduro. Millions have filed past his casket to pay their last respects and were still visiting him on Saturday.

The Supreme Court has ruled Maduro does not need to step down in order to campaign, but the move was denounced by opponents as a violation of the constitution and a "fraud."

As Maduro spoke in Congress, residents of some wealthy neighborhoods of Caracas banged pots and pans in a traditional form of protest. At one building in a wealthy corner of Caracas, people drank wine and whisky around a swimming pool, rejoicing at Chavez's demise. They toasted each other, "Happy goodbye, Chavez, we will not miss you!"

HERO OR AUTOCRAT?

Chavez was a hero to millions of mostly poor supporters for using Venezuela's oil wealth to finance heavy social spending, but he was seen as an autocrat by his opponents. He died on Tuesday at age 58 after a two-year battle with cancer.

"The excluded and invisible, the 'losers' of savage capitalism, were made visible and victorious with Chavez," Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said on Twitter.

Like communist leaders Lenin, Stalin and Mao, Chavez's remains are to be embalmed and put on display "for eternity."

An eclectic cast of celebrities, leftist and center-right presidents attended Chavez's state funeral on Friday. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a close ally, broke with protocol to kiss the coffin, while Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn was also in attendance.

It is likely to be a particularly bitter election campaign in the OPEC heavyweight nation, which boasts the world's largest proven oil reserves.

The opposition had accused the government of trampling on the constitution during its handling of Chavez's battle with cancer, and is furious that Maduro was allowed to take on the job of caretaker president while he campaigns for the job.

"This transgression is unprecedented in the history of the republic," opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado said on Twitter.

Capriles called it an abuse of power.

"To become president, the people have to elect you," he said on Friday. "No one elected Nicolas president."

(This story has been refiled to delete repeated line in paragraph four)

(Reporting by Simon Gardner, Daniel Wallis, Andrew Cawthorne, Terry Wade, Deisy Buitrago, Marianna Parraga, Pablo Garibian, Diego Ore, Patricia Velez and Ana Isabel Martinez; Editing by Eric Beech and Todd Eastham)

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Comments (8)
McBob08 wrote:
Chavez was a good man who listened to his people and gave them what they wanted, like any good national leader should. He gave them transparent government, and facilitated the welfare of the majority, rather than helping to further enrich the opulent minority. Yes, he made some mistakes, and he was a bombastic personality. Given America’s long history of illegal interference in Venezuela and the rest of South America, is it any wonder that the Venezuelan people hate America, and the presidents that authorize said illegal interference? Doubly so, Bush pushed for an unnecessary war, resulting in hundreds of thousands of civilians dying for no good reason in Afghanistan and Iraq. Such behaviour definitely earns him a comparison with the devil.

Americans are in denial of how horrible their nation is. They are the most hated nation on earth, due to their immoral, illegal and hateful interference in other nations. America’s interventionist foreign policy paints all Americans as monsters in the eyes of the world. If you don’t like that, then you should be doing more to stop your presidents from being monsters on your behalf. Start with Obama’s disgusting drone murders. They are illegal in America, and illegal by international law. They are terrorism, plain and simple. Stop Obama’s foreign policy, and America will take one step further away from being associated with demons.

RIP Hugo Chavez. You did amazing, wonderful things, and at least the poor Americans you sent free heating oil to every year will remember you as a wonderful man, even if the American Media demands you be remembered as a monster. You’re earned your rest. I pray for Venezuela in your absence, though. The Plutocratic Buzzards are poised to strike.

Mar 08, 2013 9:33pm EST  --  Report as abuse
xyz2055 wrote:
McBob08..what alternate universe do you live in? And what god forsaken third world country do you live in? The United States is Venezuela’s largest trading partner. While Chavez talked all that crap about U.S. Presidents and America, he had absolutely no problem in taking and spending the billions he got from the U.S. in oil and other commodities. The poor in Venezuela are still poor. Many have to buy food on a daily basis because they lack basic services like electricity and thus refrigerators to store it. And the drone program is brilliant! Finally a way to deal with insurgents like AQ who scurry into the woodwork like cockroaches after sending a suicide bomber into some crowed area to kill innocent women and children. And oh yeah..those horrible Americans…the only nation on the planet that is 1st to show up anywhere on the globe when there’s a crisis to provide whatever is needed to help (money, food or supplies). I got a good laugh from your post.

Mar 09, 2013 6:54am EST  --  Report as abuse
xcanada2 wrote:
@McBob08:
Right on!

The Venezuelan people give me hope that it is possible to retrieve a functioning democracy which is representative of the peoples needs, despite the brainwashing and propaganda of the corporatocracy such as we endure here in the US.

In the US, the natural bounties of the earth go increasingly to the more wealthy, and unfortunately their political and media power increases accordingly.

Mar 09, 2013 11:22am EST  --  Report as abuse
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