By Samuel Burke, CNN
Voters in Venezuela go to the polls this weekend to elect a new president, with many asking the question: will the ghost of Hugo Chavez decide the election?
Nicolas Maduro – Chavez's vice president and hand-picked successor – brands himself as an extension of the late president, vowing to carry out the socialist revolution that Chavez began.
At campaign rallies, pictures of Chavez are as prominent as photos of Maduro himself. This sets up a tough battle for the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski.
The young state governor is hoping to undo history; he lost to Chavez in the presidential election in October of last year. The margin was about 10 percentage points, though that was a much smaller difference than previous Chavez opponents.
While Capriles has rallied hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic supporters in this race, he is still down by ten points in the polls.
Leopoldo Lopez is a politician who knows what it's like to take on the legacy of Hugo Chavez, whether alive or merely as a legacy. He is one of the most influential opposition leaders in Venezuela and a key member of Capriles' campaign team.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday, Lopez likened the current campaign to David versus Goliath.
“To put in real terms: this is the people against the state. The people against the entire power of the state: ‘PDVSA’ the national oil industry, all of the powers of the state put on one side of the [government’s] candidacy, and the people on the other side.”
Many voters are clearly on a wave of sympathy for the late President Chavez.
Capriles wants to run against Maduro, but Maduro wants to run with Chavez.
“It’s an extraordinary election,” Lopez admitted. But to get out of Chavez’ shadow, he believes his candidate’s campaign focus on the economy could lead him to victory.
“Maduro is not Chavez, and 2012 is not 2013,” Lopez said. “Venezuela is a different country and Venezuela is now in an economic crisis, which is a consequence of what the government did last year.”
The election takes place this Sunday.
Venezuelan-American attorney and author Eva Golinger knew and advised Hugo Chavez. In the video above, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour speaks with Golinger, who is a staunch supporter of Chavez’ policies, about his contradictory legacy: easing poverty, unemployment and infant mortality, but leaving the country with soaring inflation and crime rates.
By Samuel Burke, CNN
The Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that President Hugo Chavez’ inauguration can be postponed.
The court also ruled that in the meantime, Chavez' handpicked vice president, Nicolás Maduro, should run the government.
Opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that she believes the Venezuelan constitution clearly states that the National Assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, should run a caretaker government before new elections are called. FULL POST
Last week we did an entire edition on the economic and political crises in Venezuela.
Our program created a tidal wave of feedback from Venezuelans in Venezuela and all over the world. So we asked our guests – Venezuelan Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and Venezuela's Ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo Alvarez Herrera – to come back and engage in a discussion taking via Twitter from our followers there. The gentlemen agreed to take part and here is the hash tag debate we've hosted using #AmanZuela:
Answer from @leopoldolopez: The real enemy venezuelans have to defeat is poverty, inequality, crime and authoritarianism. Our compromise for our future: All rights for all people.
From Ambassador Alvarez: Poverty is a problem we are successfully addressing, but we’re also focused on crime and the drought. We have political differences with Washington.
...Poverty is a problem we are definitely concerned about. And while we still have a ways to go, we have made appreciable gains in the fight against poverty and inequality. Over the last 10 years, Venezuela’s rank on the UN Human Development Index has gone up 10 spots due to the government’s innovative social programs and increased social spending. From 1998 to 2008, poverty fell from 49 to 21 percent. At the same time, access to health, education and food has increased. Of course, we are also concerned about crime, which we have been addressing with long-term and short-term measures, and we will continue adjusting our crime-fighting strategies as necessary. We are also focused on the electricity shortages caused by the historic drought in Venezuela. With regards to Washington, we have our political differences but we still believe that dialogue is possible. We will continue opposing any U.S. policies that are unilateral or interventionist, though.
Answer from @leopoldolopez: To overcome the electrical crisis the govt needs to invest in long run solutions and in short run: accept help whether it comes from Brazil, Colombia or the US.
From Ambassador Alvarez: No need to, but we do want to talk about climate change.
...Venezuela is taking necessary steps to tackle the electricity crisis, and is making investments that will add 4,000 megawatts to the grid by the end of this year and 15,000 megawatts by 2015. Where we could have discussions with the U.S. is over the necessary steps the world needs to take to manage and reverse climate change. Our current electricity crisis is caused by a lack of rain, giving us a distinct insight into how a country can be directly affected by changes in the climate. This drought may only be temporary, but if we do nothing about climate change now, we may see droughts like this more often. It will take much more aggressive steps by the developed world to act decisively against climate change.
From Ambassador Alvarez: We’re committed to clean energy; 70% comes from hydro sources. Due to the historic drought we have taken emergency measures.
....Over 70 percent of Venezuela’s electricity comes from hydro-electric sources, and much of the investments we’ve made over the years have been in expanding hydro-electric generation, which is extremely environmentally friendly. Of course, due to the historic drought Venezuela is suffering, our hydro-electric sources have been severely affected. As a consequence, Venezuela has taken emergency measures to compensate for the loss of power being generated by our hydro-electric sources. These measures include thermoelectric plants that are unfortunately not as clean as hydro-electric sources. It’s important to note that these plants will not replace cleaner alternatives, but rather serve to produce necessary electricity in the short term during emergencies. We are still committed to a clean and diversified electricity grid. The Minister of Electricity has said that he is exploring the development of eolic – or wind – sources of electricity. We are also focusing our energies on decreasing national consumption of electricity through things like energy efficient light bulbs, etc.
Answer from @leopoldolopez: We are talking and working w/ many dissidents, and we are open to enter a constructive political dialogue with Falcon and any other leader.
Answers from Ambassador Alvarez: Last poll says Pres Chavez’s popularity is at 58%. After 11 yrs, very impressive. Elections this year will be free and fair, like the last 14.
...The last poll from the Venezuelan Institute of Data Analysis (IVAD in Spanish) points out that President Chávez enjoys a popularity rating of 58 percent. You have to consider also that even those polls that claim that he has a lower level of popularity at the moment have admitted that President Chávez continues with a strong level of popularity and that changes in his popularity do not translate automatically into electoral gains for the opposition. Additionally, after 11 years in office, that his popularity has remained strong is impressive. Consider that some politicians in the U.S. lose significantly more popular support in just their first year in office. As for the coming legislative elections, the National Electoral Council has committed itself to making them free, fair and transparent, as has been the case with the 14 national elections held in Venezuela to date. We do hope that members of the opposition choose to participate this year, unlike the 2005 elections that they boycotted because they did not want to legitimize an electoral system trusted by the majority of the Venezuelan people.
Answer from @leopoldolopez: We are actively promoting the idea that candidates to the National Assambly should be elected in primaries open to new leadership.
Answer from Ambassador Alvarez: We are taking all measures – short and long term – to address this important problem.
Even one violent death at the hands of criminals is tragic, so that Venezuelans have been affected by crime, violence and insecurity over the years is a challenge we take seriously. Crime and violence has long roots and many causes, all of which we are trying to address. In the short-term, we’ve undertaken a reform of the country’s police forces and are working to make the justice system more responsive. In the long-term, we’ve pushed initiatives and programs to attack poverty, inequality and social exclusion, three causes of crime and violence.
Answer from @leopoldolopez: Vzl has become one of the most violent countries in the world mainly due to the lack of political will. For the gov crime is a non issue, never even mentioned. For 80% of the people is the main problem.
(CNN) - An energy crisis in oil-rich Venezuela is putting pressure on President Hugo Chavez and that - with protests over media regulation and falling oil output - is opening the door for a possible political shift, an opposition activist said.
"We can win if we present the right candidates, and if we go knowing that this is David against Goliath, because that's what the show for an election in Venezuela (is) going to be," Leopoldo Lopez, a former district mayor of Caracas, Venezuela, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.
The opposition hopes to take advantage of the pressure facing Chavez by tapping into key constituencies such as students, community leaders and union leaders, Lopez said.
Venezuela is in the midst of an electricity crisis so deep that one of its own government agencies, the National Electric Corporation, warns of a national energy collapse by May if something is not done.
As a result, rolling blackouts have been used to conserve energy. During the past several months, Chavez himself has taken to the airwaves, urging Venezuelans to change their incandescent light bulbs to energy-saving bulbs and to save water by taking three-minute baths. The government also made plans for a possible partial state of emergency.