In Venezuela, Divisions over Chvez Extend from Parliament to the Dinner Table

Article excerpt

Mourning Hugo Chvez supporters lined streets outside the military academy for a fourth straight day today, but few were grieving just a few miles away.

In the leafy, upscale Altamira neighborhood, residents shopped, sipped coffee at sidewalk cafes, and strolled in city parks.

If you want to talk to a Chvista, you wont find one here, says Carlos Leon, a businessman. Interim President Nicolas Maduro, who was sworn in last night, is not my president.

Meanwhile, miles to the west, the red wave of supporters, a constant since Chvez died Tuesday, again waited in line for hours to bid farewell to their beloved leader. Chants spontaneously erupted: I am Chvez! and the fight continues!

The sharp contrast between the two scenes underscores an important, if perhaps obvious, fact: Chvez left behind a deeply divided country. His socialist policies earned supporters and enemies. He both raised people out of poverty and chased Venezuelans into self-imposed exile. In his 14 years in power, he proved to be both divisive and wildly popular repeatedly winning elections by wide margins.

The polarization in Venezuela was there before, but it only got worse under Chvez, says Carlos Romero, a political analyst at Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. Instead of striving for a consensus, he reinforced a rigid political alignment.

Politically, Chvez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela appears to still have the advantage. Maduro, a former bus driver who rose through politics to become Chvezs handpicked successor, had a 46.4 to 34.3 advantage over rival Henrique Capriles in a February survey by Caracas-based pollster Datanalisis.

According to the Constitution, the election to replace Chvez should be held within 30 days of his death. Venezuelans were awaiting today an announcement on the vote, including the date, from the elections commission.

Let the acrimony begin

The campaign mudslinging has already begun. Mr. Capriles, in a press conference held just hours after Chvezs state funeral ended Friday, called Maduros swearing-in as interim president completely spurious. No one elected Nicolas president. They did not say, President Nicolas. The people did not vote for you, boy. …