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Venezuela after Chavez

| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Dario Castillejos | Diario La Crisis

George Ciccariello-Maher is an assistant professor of political science at Drexel University in Philadelphia and author of the book “We Created Chavez,” which was published Wednesday by Duke University Press. Ciccariello-Maher spoke to the Trib regarding Nicolas Maduro's narrow victory over Henrique Capriles in the April 14 Venezuelan election to succeed the late President Hugo Chavez, who died last month.

Q: Capriles continues to call for a recount. Given that Maduro was Chavez's handpicked choice to succeed him, do you believe his election is legitimate?

A: Yes, it's certainly legitimate. If there is a recount, I think you'll see very, very little change. They've had a lot of tensions over elections in the past, and it forced the government in Venezuela to really step up its game electorally. What it has now is actually a pretty bulletproof system. When (Venezuelans) vote, there is an electronic receipt that's transmitted to be counted and then a receipt is immediately printed that is then placed into a ballot box. So there are actually two receipts after every single vote (and) it's very unlikely there would be any (substantial vote count) difference with a recount. The quality of this election is unassailable.

Q: If the results are unassailable, why do they continue to be contested so strongly?

A: I'm actually a little surprised that (Capriles) is pushing it as hard as he is right now because (the opposition) did so well. They put forth an astounding result (Maduro defeated Capriles by about 235,000 votes, 50.7 percent to 49.1 percent, after Chavez trounced Capriles by more than 10 percentage points in October). Politically, I think the smart thing for them to do is immediately accept (the election) and say, “Look, we're going to beat you the next time.”

Q: Why aren't they embracing that strategy?

A: They probably think that they should look like they are on the offensive, that they should look aggressive. It's also possible they think that by questioning the election, even though they know it's solid, they are showing their supporters that they take every vote seriously.

Q: In a country in which nearly half the state governors have a military background, how great a threat does Maduro's lack of military experience pose to his ability to lead?

A: It could generate some difficulty for Maduro, because some of the alternative leaders of the Chavista bloc do have a military background. They are not his greatest base of support in the Chavista ruling bloc.

Q: Do you foresee any thaw in U.S.-Venezuelan relations with Maduro in power?

A: I'm not optimistic (but) that really depends on whether the Obama administration recognizes the election and accepts the fact that Maduro was elected. (The administration has joined Capriles' call for a recount.)

Q: Maduro is now leading a country troubled by a struggling economy, rising inflation and a high crime rate. What kind of a leader do you believe he'll be?

A: The question is going to be how does he develop a collective leadership, because he himself will not be the glue that holds it together. I think Maduro knows perfectly well that he's not Chavez. If he didn't know that before the election, he certainly knows it now.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media (412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com).

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