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VENEZUELA
Death of Hugo Chávez divides the nation
Valentina Oropeza
3/21/2013
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Population split between feelings of admiration and disavowal for deceased president.

Dressed in red from head to toe and with a brown rosary in hand, Lucía González withstood 14 hours under a merciless sun, dying of thirst and hunger, to get close for two seconds to the coffin of President Hugo Chávez and personally bid him farewell.

“Thanks to my comandante today I live in a Housing Mission apartment. The rains and flooding took my ranch in 2010, and I thought that I could never recover. The least I could do was to come and give him thanks,” she said in front of the coffin.

González is one of two million people who made their way to the Military Academy beginning last March 5, when the death of the Venezuelan leader was announced, to see his remains lying in state. She had been praying for months for Chávez to recover from the cancer he had gone to Cuba to have an operation for on Dec. 10, becoming the fourth surgical intervention he had in less than two years. “I don’t understand why God makes us go through this. The only thing I know is that now [we] have to vote for [Nicolás] Maduro so that we the poor are not removed from power.”

In the east of Caracas — traditionally an opposing region — flags wave at half-mast  in accordance with the national mourning the government declared, but demonstrations of sorrow for the president’s departure are not heard. “My two sons are engineers and they worked in PDVSA [the state-owned company Petroleum of Venezuela] until Chávez threw them out like dogs after the strike [of 2002-2003]. Ten years ago they left the country and since then my family lives separated. Because of that [his] death does not hurt me,” confesses Aura Contreras almost in whispers as she exits a bakery.

The split that the political polarization created between Chavistas and anti-Chavistas is deep and dangerous. There is no beating around the bush when judging Chávez’s legacy, and the upcoming April 14 elections do not show a hint of political dialogue with the intention of creating a long-term national reconciliation process.

Political scientist Edgar Gutiérrez warns that interim President Nicolás Maduro and opposing leader Henrique Capriles have already begun to radicalize.

“This campaign is short and sudden. To mobilize the vote, the contenders from the ruling party and the opposition appeal to the heavy emotional load that the death of the president brought,” he points out.

Sustainability of socialism
The religious veneration that Chávez’s followers pay to his memory is a result of reaching a historical figure: reducing poverty from 55.4 percent in 1998 to 27 percent in 2012. The ruler established a network of social welfare through the so-called “missions,” which offer free access to basic services and economic help with the condition of ideological loyalty, which are financed with the huge income from oil revenues of US$981 billion PDVSA earned between 1999 and 2011.

Luis Pedro España, director of the Center for Economic and Social Studies of the Andrés Bello Catholic University, ensures that the main achievement of the Chávez administration was having promoted the upward mobility of more than half of the country, a historically excluded sector that remains loyal to the president because it does not feel represented by another political option.
Announced at the beginning of February, the 46.5 percent devaluation of the bolívar, the national currency, created uncertainty as to whether it is viable to finance the promises of the Chávez-driven Socialism of the 21st Century. Close to 96 percent of the Venezuelan state’s income comes from selling crude oil, which links the viability of the social policies to the fluctuations in petroleum prices in international markets. Inflation has reached an historic high in the last 14 years, peaking at 27.9 percent in 2011 — the highest rate in Latin America. Two-thirds of the products consumed in the country are imported and almost half of Venezuelan private businesses closed down in the last decade.

“To bet on the disappearance of the capitalist economy without having created the new socialist economy is the perfect shortcut to end trapped in a vicious cycle of production decline, shortages, stockpiling, speculation, inflation, unemployment, and increasing social malaise,” thinks economist Víctor Álvarez, former minister of Basic Industries and Mining.

The shortage of chicken, sugar, coffee, precooked corn flour, and many other basic necessities has reached a new critical stage since December 2012, the Venezuelan National Association of Users and Consumers denounced. The policies of expropriations and currency controls imposed serious limitations on the productive capacity of the domestic industry and pushed foreign capital out in search for more stable markets in neighbouring countries.

The victims of impunity
There were 143,135 homicides in Venezuela between 1997 and 2011, according to calculations from the nongovernmental organization Venezuelan Program for Education-Action on Human Rights, or PROVEA. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory ensures that last year alone 20,000 people died in robberies, kidnappings, settling of scores, and other crimes. Social criminologists, lawyers, and psychologists agree that impunity is the spark that ignites violence in Venezuela.

The Public Ministry has recognized that 91 percent of the human rights violation cases reported to the state have not reached a proper sentence. Nongovernmental organizations reproach Chávez for having withdrawn from the American Convention on Human Rights; as a result, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will no longer have authority to process cases coming from Venezuela beginning September 2013.

However, Chavistas, anti-Chavistas, and those affiliated with neither side share a single goal: to live in a peaceful Venezuela.

“Someone has to stop the [criminals] who kill our children and mar the image of the revolution,” denounces González from the Military Academy.
“This country cannot handle more dead people. Hopefully the next government understands that,” says Contreras, concluding and leaving before nightfall and before the journey home becomes more dangerous. —
Latinamerica Press.

 


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To live in a peaceful Venezuela - the divided nation´s common dream. (Photo: www.taringa.net)
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