Newspaper article International New York Times

In Venezuela Capitol, Chavez's Image Is Erased

Newspaper article International New York Times

In Venezuela Capitol, Chavez's Image Is Erased

Article excerpt

Triumphal portraits of former President Hugo Chavez were carted away this week as his party's political rivals moved into the National Assembly.

With triple-digit inflation showing no signs of retreating and the new National Assembly vowing to remove the president, Venezuela over the past few days careered toward crises both economic and political.

Yet the great debate of the week had less to do with the economy than it did with former President Hugo Chavez -- or rather whether several pictures of Mr. Chavez, who died in 2013 of cancer, should still hang in the Capitol.

The portraits, of a triumphal Mr. Chavez in military attire and addressing the United Nations, were carted away this week as rivals of his United Socialist Party, who were swept into the Assembly in a Dec. 6 vote, moved into the chamber.

Henry Ramos, the Assembly's incoming leader, stood on the Capitol steps and waved as the images of Mr. Chavez were taken away. He told reporters that only the country's flag and shield should be displayed.

President Nicolas Maduro, Mr. Chavez's handpicked successor, wasted no time in trying to turn his opponents' symbolic gesture to his advantage. In a nationally televised speech on Wednesday evening, he called the removals outrageous, and he said that portraits of Simon Bolivar, the country's independence hero, had also been taken down.

"I can't fail to express my anger, my repudiation," Mr. Maduro said. "I call on the people to rebel against these neo-fascists, anti-Bolivarians, anti-patriots."

On Thursday, a number of demonstrators assembled at a downtown plaza, heeding the president's call. The Chavez portraits were brought there and guarded by soldiers.

The spat over the portraits could augur poorly for Venezuela's political prospects in the new year, the country's first taste of a divided government where disputes boil up as the economy continues its meltdown. Venezuela has the largest estimated oil reserves in the world, yet price controls and inflation have led to shortages of basic items like eggs and flour. Fears about rising crime also weigh heavily on the minds of the middle class and the poor alike. …

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