Nicolas Maduro, Hugo Chavez’s heir, to take over divided Venezuela

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Capriles, an athletic 40-year-old state governor, had mocked and belittled Maduro as a poor, bland imitation of Chavez.

Maduro said during his victory speech that Capriles had called him before the results were announced to suggest a “pact” and that Maduro refused. Capriles’ camp did not comment on Maduro’s claim, though Capriles began his speech by declaring he doesn’t “make pacts with lies or corruption.”

Maduro, a longtime foreign minister to Chavez, rode a wave of sympathy for the charismatic leader to victory, pinning his hopes on the immense loyalty for his boss among millions of poor beneficiaries of government largesse and the powerful state apparatus that Chavez skillfully consolidated.

Capriles’ main campaign weapon was to simply emphasize “the incompetence of the state.”

Millions of Venezuelans were lifted out of poverty under Chavez, but many also believe his government not only squandered, but plundered, much of the $1 trillion in oil revenues during his 14-year rule.

Venezuelans are afflicted by chronic power outages, crumbling infrastructure, unfinished public works projects, double-digit inflation, food and medicine shortages, and rampant crime — one of the world’s highest homicide and kidnapping rates — that the opposition said worsened after Chavez disappeared to Cuba in December for what would be his final surgery.

Analyst David Smilde at the Washington Office on Latin America think tank predicted the victory would prove pyrrhic and make Maduro extremely vulnerable.

“It will make people in his coalition think that perhaps he is not the one to lead the revolution forward,” Smilde said.

“This is a result in which the ‘official winner’ appears as the biggest loser,” said Amherst College political scientist Javier Corrales. “The ‘official loser’ —the opposition — emerges even stronger than it did six months ago. These are very delicate situations in any political system, especially when there is so much mistrust of institutions.”

Many across the nation put little stock in Maduro’s claims that sabotage by the far right was to blame for worsening power outages and food shortages in the weeks before the vote.

“We can’t continue to believe in messiahs,” said Jose Romero, a 48-year-old industrial engineer who voted for Capriles in the central city of Valencia. “This country has learned a lot and today we know that one person can’t fix everything.”

In a Chavista stronghold in Petare outside Caracas, Maria Velasquez, 48, who works in a government soup kitchen that feeds 200 people, said she voted for Chavez’s man “because that is what my comandante ordered.”

Reynaldo Ramos, a 60-year-old construction worker, said he “voted for Chavez” before correcting himself and saying he chose Maduro.

“We must always vote for Chavez because he always does what’s best for the people and we’re going to continue on this path,” Ramos said.

The governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela deployed a well-worn, get-out-the-vote machine spearheaded by loyal state employees. It also enjoyed the backing of state media as part of its near-monopoly on institutional power.

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