On anniversary of Chavez’s death, Venezuela’s future is in question

Many turned out in Caracas on Wednesday for a parade honoring the late Hugo Chavez.
Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press
Many turned out in Caracas on Wednesday for a parade honoring the late Hugo Chavez.

CARACAS — Venezuela marked the first anniversary of Hugo Chavez’s death uneasily Wednesday with a mix of scattered street protests and solemn commemorations that reflected deep divisions in the nation he left behind.

Hundreds filed solemnly into the mausoleum containing Chavez’s remains to pay respects to the combative, charismatic leader who transformed Venezuela during a 14-year reign, championing its downtrodden, and President Nicolas Maduro oversaw a parade.

President Raul Castro of Cuba paid a visit, laying a white flower on the late Venezuelan president’s marble casket.


But while Chavez always said his socialist project would last decades, even some of his most fervent supporters have doubts about where it will go now.

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‘‘When the head of household is absent, as we say around here, things start to get out of control,’’ said Pablo Nieves, a community leader in the poor 23 de Enero district of Caracas. ‘‘If he were still with us, it would have never gotten to this.’’

Desperation is growing, along with the length of the queues outside state-run markets that reflect the economy’s downward spiral and helped trigger a protest wave in which at least 18 people have died, by the government’s count.

Small groups of antigovernment protesters again blew horns and whistles and blocked avenues with garbage and other debris in Caracas’ wealthier east early Wednesday, briefly causing traffic jams.

Maduro, the handpicked successor of Chavez, organized 10 days of commemorative activities to mark the anniversary of Chavez’s death at age 58.


While not a national holiday, many schools and businesses were closed after a long Carnival weekend, and traffic was light in the capital, with an unusually heavy presence of National Guard troops in wealthier districts.

In a forceful speech opening a civilian-military parade to honor Chavez, Maduro once again blamed ‘‘right-wing fascists’’ for the unrest. He also firmly rejected international attempts to mediate.

‘‘OAS get out of here, now and forever!’’ Maduro said. Organization of American States’ ambassadors were preparing to meet Thursday in Washington to consider Panama’s request for an emergency meeting of foreign ministers.

The United States and Canada have criticized the Maduro government as assailing free speech in its crackdown on the nationwide demonstrations.

Maduro said some protest leaders were arrested in Caracas Wednesday with ‘‘weapons of war,’’ including Molotov cocktails and gunpowder, though he offered no details.


Chavez lifted a good share of the country’s population above the poverty line by sharing the nation’s oil export bounty, though critics said his generous social spending fed inflation and his interventionist economic policies stifled local production of non-oil goods.

The government, meanwhile, has been criticized by rights groups for letting menacing ‘‘collectives’’ of pistol-packing thugs on motorbikes join security forces in repressing protests.

Maduro’s government has been unable to halt 56 percent annual inflation and crippling currency controls that have fueled a growing scarcity of consumer basics — from milk to flour to cooking oil.