A somber Chavez announced Saturday for the first time that he was turning over the reins of power to former bus driver Nicolas Maduro, who’s served as his foreign minister since 2006. Chavez urged Venezuelans “from the bottom of my heart” to vote for Maduro if “anything happens to me.”
He meant death, and was referring to the proviso in Venezuela’s constitution that elections be called within 30 days if a president dies before he can assume another term, which in his case was scheduled in 2013.
On the surface, that ought to be good news for Venezuela’s battered opposition, which last October came as close as they’ve ever come to unseating Chavez. Henrique Capriles Radonski drew more than 40% of the vote in what was an impossibly stacked election, a powerful show of unity in the face of long odds.
But getting rid of Chavez won’t be easy — even if he’s dead. As anyone greeted by the grinning leader on the giant billboard at Caracas’ Maiquetia Airport soon learns, Venezuela is all about one-man rule, towering over hill after hill of impoverished shantytowns.