Weeks after his death, Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez still leads supporters in singing the national anthem. The late president’s recorded voice booms over rallies for his protégé, acting President Nicolas Maduro, who stands under billboards of Chavez’s face and waves to crowds carrying signs emblazoned with his name. Maduro, who is favored to win a snap election triggered by Chavez’s death last month, rarely misses a chance to lionize the man many Venezuelans know as “El Comandante.” “All of the prophecies of Hugo Chavez, the prophet of Christ on this earth, have come true,” intoned Maduro at a rally celebrating the anniversary of the former president’s release from jail for leading a failed 1992 coup. “In eternity, or wherever you are, you must be proud because you left our people the greatest inheritance of all: a free and independent nation on the path toward socialism,” he said of the man loved by supporters as a savior but excoriated by adversaries as a dictator.
Seeking to tap into the emotional outpouring following his death, Maduro’s presidential campaign has put Chavez’s image on nearly everything except the ballot.
From thundering speeches celebrating Chavez’s days as a leftist military conspirator to stories told in a low voice of his final days suffering from cancer, Maduro has made Chavez’s ghost the centerpiece of his campaign.
Polls show the 50-year-old former bus driver, whom Chavez named his successor before dying, leading opposition challenger Henrique Capriles by at least 14 percentage points.
He enjoys ample state spending to back his candidacy, and has used the celebration of Chavez’s legacy to keep attention away from high inflation, nagging product shortages and one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime.