Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Still Talking of Chavez, Venezuelans Go to Polls

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Still Talking of Chavez, Venezuelans Go to Polls

Article excerpt

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Striving urgently to keep hold of the presidency in Sunday's election, supporters of the late President Hugo Chavez kicked off their get-out-the-vote effort before dawn, with trucks mounted with huge speakers circulating through slum neighborhoods blaring reveille.

Bugles, fireworks and loud music accompanied Venezuelans to the polls as they decided whether Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's handpicked political heir, or Henrique Capriles Radonski, an opposition governor, will succeed Chavez. But Chavez, who died of cancer March 5, seemed to loom larger in voters' minds than either candidate.

"The commander's legacy should continue, toward a better future," Alejandro Rodriguez, 34, said after casting his ballot at a school in a neighborhood known as Gato Negro, or Black Cat. "I voted for the commander's son, Nicolas Maduro," Mr. Rodriguez said, employing a term that the candidate used to emphasize his ideological closeness to his mentor.

Driving the point home, a large banner on a pedestrian overpass near the school entrance said, "A vote for Maduro is a vote for Chavez."

Chavez, a charismatic socialist, built his political career on flaying the United States as an imperialist Beelzebub, and Mr. Maduro followed the prescription with an acolyte's zeal. During the short, often nasty and at times bizarre election campaign, Mr. Maduro, the acting president, portrayed the United States as an enemy power determined to put Venezuela under heel. He accused former U.S. diplomats of plotting to kill him, and spoke of suspicions that the United States had caused Chavez's cancer. And his foreign minister, Elias Jaua, closed the door on informal talks with the United States that began late last year.

A senior State Department official in Washington said the harsh talk had made the possibility of improved relations more difficult.

Still, Mr. Maduro sent a private signal to Washington over the weekend that he was ready to turn the page. …

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