Venezuela to mark Chavez death anniversary

Students maintain barricades in some cities and activists hold new rallies while government plans to honour late leader.

Last updated: 05 Mar 2014 15:35
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Venezuela is preparing for commemorations of socialist leader Hugo Chavez's death, despite continued protests against his successor that threaten the legacy of El Comandante.

Even as students maintained barricades in some cities and activists held new rallies on Tuesday, Reuters news agency said President Nicolas Maduro's government was making plans to honour Chavez on Wednesday's anniversary of his death from cancer.

Maduro, 51, who announced Chavez's death in tears on March 5 last year, has made preserving Chavez's controversial legacy the guiding force of his presidency, despite opposition from many Venezuelans.

He is due 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.

In what has become a pre-dusk ritual in Caracas, several hundred protesters battled with police near Plaza Altamira in an affluent eastern district. Hardened by several weeks of such clashes, the students carried gas masks, flung stones, prepared petrol bombs and strung wires across the main avenue to block police motorbikes. Officers replied with teargas.

Protesters wore white and waved Venezuelan flags, chanting "We don't want a dicatorship like Cuba!" or "We are all Leopoldo!" in reference to Leopoldo Lopez, the jailed protest leader.

Expected guests

Latin American allies, including Bolivian leader Evo Morales and Nicaraguan counterpart Daniel Ortega, are due to attend Wednesday's commemorations.

Maduro 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 fought with security forces and Maduro supporters.

Anti-government protesters in Venezuela have failed to win over fans of late President Chavez in the country's poor areas [AFP]

Yet there seems to be little chance of a Ukraine-style change at the top, given that the numbers on the street are not massive, the military appears to remain behind Maduro, and opposition leaders are not winning over "Chavistas" in poor areas.

The current crisis has, though, exposed genuine discontent among Venezuelans on all sides. 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.

Elias Jaua, Venezuela's foreign minister, met Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, after which he said Venezuela was the victim of an international campaign to ignore social gains under Chavez and Maduro.

"It's a well-designed campaign," he said on Tuesday, saying barely one percent of Venezuela had been affected by protests.

"They're using, as spokespeople, world-famous artists who barely know where Venezuela is, let alone the reality of our country, and our democratic political process."

"Maduro tries to sell himself as the heir to Chavez, but he is just a bad copy," Henrique Capriles, opposition leader, said in an interview.


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