Crisis-hit Venezuela pays tribute to Chavez 2 years on
CARACAS - Agence France-Presse
AFP PhotoVenezuela paid tribute Thursday to leftist firebrand Hugo Chavez two years after his death, but the movement he founded faces its worst approval ratings ever amid a deepening economic crisis.
Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela said the national homage would start with morning fireworks, followed by an "anti-imperialist tribute" at Bolivar Square in the capital Caracas.
President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's hand-picked successor, will likely renew his recent condemnations of the United States, which he accused last month of sponsoring an alleged coup plot against him.
Like his late mentor, Maduro regularly denounces alleged coup plots and assassination attempts.
In the afternoon, the government has organized a tribute to Chavez at the "Cuartel de la Montana," the military barracks where he launched his political career -- now a military museum where his embalmed body lies in a marble tomb.
The barracks is where Chavez, then a paratroop officer, launched a failed 1992 coup attempt, six years before finally coming to power at the ballot box.
He went on to rule Venezuela for 14 years with a mix of authoritarianism and charisma, using the oil giant's booming crude revenues to fund a populist economic model that he called "21st-century socialism."
When Chavez died at age 58 following a long battle with cancer, millions of Venezuelans poured into the streets in mourning.
His memory is alive and well in Venezuela, where his face is still splashed across countless murals, banners and posters and fervid supporters keep an altar to "Saint Hugo."
That fervor does not, however, extend to Maduro, who lacks Chavez's charisma and has struggled to keep his subsidy-driven economic model afloat amid a deep recession exacerbated by plummeting oil prices.
"In October 2012, 44 percent (of Venezuelans) defined themselves as 'Chavistas.' Last December, the figure was 22 percent. The political capital of 'Chavismo' has been cut in half," said political scientist John Magdaleno.
Exasperated with soaring prices, chronic shortages of basic goods and violent crime, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets last year in protests that exploded into violence, leaving 43 people dead and hundreds wounded.
Maduro's approval rating is now hovering around 20 percent, putting the Chavistas at risk of losing key legislative elections later this year.