Venezuela's Maduro stuck in shadow of 'El Comandante' Chavez

Fri Oct 4, 2013 8:58am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Andrew Cawthorne

CIUDAD CARIBIA, Venezuela (Reuters) - Hovering over a sun-baked mountain one day in his presidential helicopter, Hugo Chavez had a dream: to build a utopian city that would showcase socialism in Venezuela.

Slowly and chaotically over the years that followed, the late president's pet project - conceived a decade into his rule and named "Ciudad Caribia" for the country's indigenous Carib people - began to take shape on the mountain 10 km (6 miles) northwest of the capital, Caracas.

"This was his dream. Now it is his legacy," said hairdresser Yalmy Rumbo, 39, watching her children play and laugh in a public square where Cuban instructors were organizing games.

Rumbo is among the first 1,600 families, almost all refugees from floods and mudslides around Caracas, to have been given homes in new apartment blocks covered in Chavez imagery. Eventually, Caribia is intended to house 20,000 families, although critics complain at the slow pace of construction, the collapse of some shoddily-built walls and the lack of transparency over huge sums invested.

Caribia is a hotbed of pro-Socialist Party government sentiment in a country that otherwise was deeply divided in electing charismatic Chavez's handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro as president in April.

After Chavez's death from cancer in March at the age of 58, the popularity of "El Comandante" has grown and taken on even deeper religious undertones among the support base that kept him in power for 14 years.

While that helped Maduro, a former bus driver, union activist and member of parliament win a six-year term as president, it is also making it near-impossible for him to step out of Chavez's shadow.

"As long as Nicolas maintains Chavez's route, the people will be with him. If he deviates from Chavez, everything will change, he'll be finished," said Rumbo.   Continued...

A man sits next to a mural depecting the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in downtown Caracas September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Silva