On Monday, March 11, Venezuela's acting president Nicolas Maduro, announced to a cheering crowd that "[he is] not Chavez, but [he is] his son."
So now, with presidential elections scheduled for April 14, the Venezuelan people face an exigent decision: keep their faith in Chavez and in his self-proclaimed "apostles" or send the country in a new direction, away from the heavy regulations of business and the generous social welfare programs that defined Venezuela under the socialist President Chavez.
The front running opposition candidate to Maduro is Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, a politician from the Justice First Party. According to a survey conducted by the pollster Datanalisis, however, Maduro currently claims a dominating 14 percentage-point lead over his more conservative political rival. A lead, Barclays Bank (the publisher of the Datanalisis research note) suggests, which stems primarily from the grief the majority of Venezuelans are feeling in the month after the loss of their esteemed leader.
"Considering the short campaign period, the sympathy effect in the wake of Chavez's death, restrictions on the media, and the demobilization of the opposition after two defeats last year, Maduro remains the favorite," Barclays said.
Recently, in efforts to distinguish each party's political aim, both Maduro and Capriles – the governor who, in past, has been defined by a more conciliatory tone – have thrown verbal shots at one another, heightening the political gap between both parties and highlighting the different paths each ideology pursues.
Both candidates used their particular strengths and constituent bases as soapboxes for accusations against the one another. Capriles offered voters a "unified country" and attention towards recent inflation and subsequent monetary devaluation. Maduro countered Capriles' words by labeling them as slander and then took advantage of Capriles' need to delicately balance how he highlights past governmental flaws without appearing to attack or tarnish Chavez's legacy.
However, even though Maduro has received the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) and appears to have a clear upper hand on the political atmosphere of the country, Capriles' focus on the incredibly contentious position of Venezuela's conspicuous relationship with Cuba and its manipulation of its greatest natural resource, oil, could swing him some votes in the coming weeks.
A victory for Capriles would likely open ports to the country with the world's largest crude oil reserves for global oil companies and would probably offer investors more market-friendly policies after over a decade of state-centered economics. Capriles claims that abandoning cheap oil sales to Cuba – Venezuela sends about 100,000 barrels of oil to the Caribbean country per day in exchange for services such as doctors and free health clinics in slums and rural areas – would boost public employee salaries by 40%. The Venezuelan people can get behind that.
And, obviously, the U.S. would benefit from a more open market in Venezuela as well. But beyond an alliance in oil acquisition, a Capriles presidency may even open a doorway to allegiance between two nations. While Capriles is not particularly outright in any advocacy for the United States or its policies, his silent impartiality is strengthened against the flamboyant anti-U.S. jargon and unsupported propaganda of Nicolas Maduro, who is likely to reemphasize his past president's depiction of the United States leader as "el diablo" ("the devil") if elected into the presidency.
With the Venezuela Constitutional Referendum of February 15, 2009, then-president Hugo Chavez abolished term-limits for the offices of the president. With the momentum that he had in those years, Chavez believed that he could have been elected president for decades to come. But with his untimely death comes a new opportunity: an opportunity for change and for reinstallation of fair, capitalist market policies. It is undoubtedly an uphill battle, but Governor Henrique Capriles has the next 25 days to be that potential change for his country and to lead Venezuela in a new direction.