Friday was the final day of campaigning for Sunday’s election to replace Hugo Chavez and the streets of Caracas were flooded with red-shirted backers of the man the recently deceased Venezuelan President tapped to succeed him.

Nicolas Maduro is favoured to win the vote. The burly former bus driver had been Chavez’s Foreign Minister and vows to carry on his mentor’s socialist revolution.

But polls show Mr. Maduro’s advantage narrowing as challenger Henrique Capriles hammers away at government deficiencies in managing the economy and fighting crime. Venezuela is also plagued by food shortages, double-digit inflation and worsening power outages.

Many analysts believe that if the campaign was held a few months from now Mr. Maduro would not have the 10-point lead the latest poll from the Datanalisis firm gives him over Mr. Capriles. Chronic shortages of basic goods will be one of the slew of economic problems that will be inherited by whoever wins the presidential election.

“As long as we have the same price for oil, the government will have wiggle room,” Jesus Casique, economics professor at Preston University, told AFP. “Venezuela is vulnerable. It’s an economy that depends on black gold.”

Chavez imposed currency controls in 2003 to stop capital flight. Price controls were also set. But analysts say the measures failed to solve the problem and made Venezuela rely on imports to fill supermarket shelves.

On top of that, sporadic power outages affect Venezuelans, inflation remained high at 20.1 per cent last year, public debt reached $150 billion, or half the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

The head of the Venezuelan chamber of commerce, Jorge Botti, said 200,000 companies shut their doors in the past decade while 1,600 others were expropriated by the state. A report by investor services firm Ecoanalitica said the economy would either contract or grow by two per cent this year, well below the government’s six per cent target. At a campaign rally on Tuesday, Mr. Maduro promised to raise the monthly minimum wage — which stands at 2,047 bolivars, or $325 — by up to 45 per cent this year if he is elected. Mr. Capriles has proposed a 40-per-cent hike.

Mr. Maduro has pledged to continue his mentor’s self-styled socialist revolution, blaming the problems on an “economic war” waged by the opposition with the backing of the U.S.

Mr. Capriles, governor of Miranda state, has suggested that he would follow Brazil’s moderate socialism, progressively dismantle the price and currency controls, stop expropriations and attract private investments. — AFP, AP


Continuing ChávismoApril 16, 2013

From slender win to real challenge April 16, 2013