A year after his death, Hugo Chavez’s shadow looms on Venezuela. The South American nation, in the throes of protests by people fed up with the system of governance, observed the first death anniversary of the folksy leader yesterday. The occasion is tinged with irony. A nationalist leader who was president of the country for 13 years and was characterised by his flamboyant style and unconventional mannerisms, would have his first death anniversary fall during a major upheaval. Anti-government protests in Venezuela, especially in the capital, have peaked. Though a national holiday when people typically head to the beaches was seen as a distraction, resentment against the government is deeply ingrained.
Chavez’s protégé Nicolas Maduro was handed over the reins of the country by the Socialist leader in the hope that he would be able to steer the country in the right direction. During his rule, Chavez embodied a style of governance that was anti-American. He always referred to the United States as the ‘empire’ and would spare no chance to berate Washington’s ‘imperialistic policies’. The West, led by Washington, saw him as a troublemaker in the South American region, which is still saddled with Socialist governments usually seen as nascent democracies.
Maduro, a former bus driver, had campaigned with the promise of keeping Chavez’s legacy alive. However, a year down the line, he is finding it hard to govern. Inflation has gone through the roof, unemployment is high and a general climate of dissatisfaction pervades the nation.
While paying respects yesterday to the late Socialist leader, Maduro invoked the name of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar, seen as the liberator of the region from Spanish colonialism. Chavez passed into history as the man who revived Bolivar, Maduro said of his mentor. A grand military parade was held in the capital Caracas to observe Chavez’s death anniversary. Commemorations in Nicaragua and Cuba showed how the late leader’s legacy is alive not only in his country but also in the region. The response during Chavez’s anniversary shows that the leader lives in the hearts of a large number of Venezuelans. Though he had a mixed record as a president, his legacy endures. Protests continued on the anniversary as demonstrators clashed with security forces. The month-long unrest shows that Maduro will have a tough time dealing with expectations of the people many of whom treated Chavez like a legend. He commanded huge support among the slums where his policies were seen as pro-poor.
The scale of the commemorations on Chavez’s death anniversary is a reminder to Maduro that he has a very tough task ahead. For satisfying a nation that lives in the shadow of the late leader, Maduro will have to do a course correction.