Maduro marks one year in office amid turmoil

Venezuelan president grapples with protests coupled with a slump in the economy that has caused shortage of basic goods.

    In December, Maduro deepened his 'economic offensive' to force businesses to cut prices [AP]
    In December, Maduro deepened his 'economic offensive' to force businesses to cut prices [AP]

    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is completing one year in office as he grapples with a series of violent protests and attempts to keep up his predecessor's, Hugo Chavez, socialist legacy in the oil-rich nation.

    Maduro took office in April 2013 with Venezuela's electoral authorities declaring him the winner with 50.8 percent of the vote against 49 percent for opposition leader Henrique Capriles.

    But he has been battling major student-led anti-government demonstrations since February amid frustration with economic and security issues.

    The protests have transformed into a nationwide movement focused on the ousting of the president.

    Under Chavez's 14-year socialist tenure, Venezuela nationalised a series of companies and industries, established foreign currency restrictions and used the country's oil-revenue windfall to push forward welfare policies for the country's poorest.

    Some experts say Maduro, 51, has borne the brunt of Chavez's socialist excesses with inflation at 54 percent in 2013 and the OPEC nation wracked by shortages.

    "Maduro has had to pay the costs, pay the bill of a failed economic model that is undoubtedly a model that is absolutely unworkable," said analyst Manuel Felipe Sierra.

    'Economic war'

    Venezuelans, already struggling to find basics like milk and toilet paper on supermarket shelves, are now confronted with empty appliance store windows and clothes racks at shopping centres, reported the AFP news agency.

    It said shopping centres had become deserted, with stores straining under government-imposed limits on profits, rents and access to hard currency.

    Using the same rhetoric as his predecessor, Maduro has accused the country's oligarchs of waging an "economic war" which is fuelling spiralling consumer prices and chronic product shortages.

    "I told Commander [Chavez], they [the oligarchs] can't take you on, or your sons and daughters and this year they have really proven this conclusively," Maduro told supporters.

    "The oligarchs can't take us on, not with protesters, not with violence, not with elections, not with economic war. They can't take us on."

    In December, Maduro deepened his "economic offensive" to force businesses to cut prices, a move popular with his working class supporters.

    Pollsters say approval levels for both Maduro and the opposition have fallen during the crisis, while an already slowing economy has suffered a further drag from the impact of violent clashes on businesses and transport.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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