December 21, 2014
Amid protests, Venezuela to remember late Hugo Chavez
Venezuela geared up for commemorations of socialist leader Hugo Chavez's death despite continued protests against his successor that have shaken the OPEC member and threatened the legacy of "El Comandante."
Even as students maintained barricades in some cities and activists held new rallies, President Nicolas Maduro's government was making lavish plans to honor Chavez on Wednesday's anniversary of his death from cancer.
Maduro, who announced Chavez's death in tears to a shell-shocked nation on March 5 last year, has made preserving Chavez's controversial legacy the guiding force of his presidency despite opposition from about half of Venezuelans.
The president was to preside over a military parade in Caracas on Wednesday, followed by a ceremony at the mausoleum housing Chavez's remains on a hilltop shantytown.
Latin American allies, including Bolivian leader Evo Morales and Nicaraguan counterpart Daniel Ortega, were to attend.
Maduro, 51, narrowly won election in April 2013 to replace his late mentor but has seen economic problems worsen, made little headway against violent crime, and faced street protests since early February in the nation of 29 million people.
Those demonstrations have brought Venezuela's worst unrest in a decade, with 18 people killed as demonstrators have faced off with security forces and Maduro supporters.
The current crisis has, though, exposed genuine discontent among Venezuelans on all sides, with the highest inflation in the Americas, shortages of products from toilet paper to milk, and violent crime rates among the worst in the world.
"We were better off with Chavez. Maduro has to work harder because if not, the people who elected him will be the people who end up getting rid of him," Evelyn Vegas, 53, a housewife, said in a state-run supermarket.
That comment echoed a common sentiment among 'Chavistas', who remain loyal to Maduro since that was Chavez's dying wish, but are far from thrilled with his government.
Critics say it is irrelevant to be remembering Chavez and spending money on a military parade when Venezuela has so many pressing problems to resolve.
Students continued to block some streets in Caracas and other cities, most notably San Cristobal in western Tachira state.
In what has become a pre-dusk ritual in Caracas, several hundred militant protesters battled with police near Plaza Altamira in an affluent eastern district.
"They're celebrating the anniversary of a tyrant. We have to resist!" said Aquiles Aldazo, 18, spraying the word "Resistance" on a wall.