Crisis-Hit Venezuela Pays Tribute to Chavez, Two Years On

Crisis-Hit Venezuela Pays Tribute to Chavez, Two Years On

Fireworks lit up the dawn skies as Venezuela paid tribute 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.

The national homage included an "anti-imperialist tribunal" organized by Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela, with glowing tributes coming in from regional allies, notably Cuba, as well as from Colombia's FARC rebels.

The commemorations come as Chavez's hand-picked successor, President Nicolas Maduro, struggles to revive the recession-hit economy and address chronic shortages of basic goods ahead of key legislative elections this year.

"The order of the day at this historic moment is to struggle and to work," Maduro said at the "tribunal" in Caracas.

"No one must lower their guard."

Maduro then presided over a tribute to Chavez at the "Cuartel de la Montana," the military barracks where the late leader launched his political career -- now a military museum where dozens of his supporters placed flowers at his marble tomb.

The barracks are 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 onto 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 -- there is 68.5 per cent annual inflation, a 4.0 percent economic contraction last year and 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, shortages and violent crime, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans hit the streets last year in protests that exploded into violence, leaving 43 people dead and hundreds wounded.

Maduro, 52, has taken a harder line than Chavez, jailing opponents and allowing the security forces to use deadly force to control public demonstrations.

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