CARACAS : Venezuela marks Wednesday one year since Hugo Chavez died, with his successor leading ceremonies for the “eternal comandante” whose socialist revolution is now facing persistent opposition protests.
After a month of sometimes deadly demonstrations, President Nicolas Maduro will oversee a parade showing off the government’s military might before a ceremony at the former barracks where the late leader is entombed.
Two of Chavez’s leftist allies in the region, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Bolivian counterpart Evo Morales, will join the commemoration. A documentary by US film-maker Oliver Stone, “My Friend Hugo,” will premiere on the government-funded Telesur network.
“One year after the departure of our Eternal Comandante, I invite everybody to pay tribute to him in peace and with love,” Maduro wrote on Twitter.
His plea for love was ignored by anti-government students and the opposition who announced plans for more demonstrations on the same day as the Chavez remembrance events.
Thousands marched peacefully across the city on Tuesday. But as night fell, some 300 radical protesters threw firebombs at national guard troops who responded with tear gas in what has become a nightly ritual in the capital’s middle-class Chacao neighborhood.
The protests spread after first erupting on February 4 in the western city of San Cristobal, where students demonstrated against the nation’s runaway crime following the attempted rape of a young woman.
At least 18 people have died in the protests. Maduro says the demonstrations are a US-backed plot by “fascists” to overthrow him.
The protests have posed the biggest challenge to Maduro’s nearly year-old presidency, though analysts say his government remains sturdy enough to withstand the protests.
“The government is stable, though not as strong as a year ago,” Carlos Romero, political science professor at the Central University of Venezuela, told AFP.
“There is no counter-power that can be considered enough to transition to another regime,” he said.
After 14 years in power, Chavez lost his battle with cancer on March 5, 2013, at the age of 58, leaving behind a country sharply divided by his oil-funded socialist revolution.
His image is on billboards and walls throughout Caracas while his speeches can be heard on national TV or speakers blasting from the January 23 slum that remains a stronghold of Chavismo.
“For 14 years the government was concentrated around Chavez’s personality, so overcoming that has been difficult,” Romero said.
He handpicked Maduro, his former vice president and foreign minister, to succeed him. His protege was elected by a razor-thin margin in April last year, defeating opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who cried foul and refused to recognize the results.
Maduro inherited problems that already existed under Chavez: one of the world’s highest murder rates, shortages of food in supermarkets and soaring inflation.
Students led the initial marches and have since been joined by opposition figures, including Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor of Chacao who was arrested on charges of inciting violence.
“This is a horrible situation. It was never like this with other governments,” said Maria Uzcategui, a 50-year-old unemployed Caracas resident who was taking a picture in front of a barricade put up by radical protesters in Chacao.
“I’ve never seen this, so many food shortages and so much violence,” she said.