Venezuela's snap election still pretty much all about Chavez

The infamous socialist strongman is dead and gone, but unfortunately, I don’t think the specter of Hugo Chavez is destined to dissipate anytime soon. His protégé and heir apparent, acting president Nicolas Maduro, has been all too content to capitalize on the dear departed leader’s memory and has comfortably settled in to all of his old America-hating, paranoia-peddling mannerisms. Reuters reports that Maduro’s campaign has stamped Chavez’s name on just about everything except the ballot:

Weeks after his death, Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez still leads supporters in singing the national anthem. …

Maduro, who is favored to win a snap election triggered by Chavez’s death last month, rarely misses a chance to lionize the man many Venezuelans know as “El Comandante.”

“All of the prophecies of Hugo Chavez, the prophet of Christ on this earth, have come true,” intoned Maduro at a rally celebrating the anniversary of the former president’s release from jail for leading a failed 1992 coup. …

He enjoys ample state spending to back his candidacy, and has used the celebration of Chavez’s legacy to keep attention away from high inflation, nagging product shortages and one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime. …

And if Chavez was the prophet of Christ, then it obviously goes without saying that Chavez’s erstwhile and Maduro’s current opposition candidate is just like Hitler, or something:

Venezuela’s acting President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday called the country’s opposition “heirs of Hitler,” accusing them of persecuting Cuban doctors working in the South American country the way Jews were persecuted in Nazi Germany.

His barbs added to weeks of insults in the run-up to the April 14 presidential elections triggered by the death of socialist leader Hugo Chavez this month. Polls show Maduro with a double-digit lead over opposition rival Henrique Capriles.

Inherited habits die hard, I guess. There are reports that Venezuelans are starting to think that Maduro has none of their former president’s charisma and that his campaign is actually overusing and abusing the Chavez brand — a theme that the Capriles camp has been hitting hard — and that Capriles is gaining momentum. The polls (for whatever they’re worth), however, still have Maduro pegged to win, and seeing as how his governing plan isn’t really any different from his predecessor, I’m not optimistic about Venezuela’s handling of the very serious and immediate problems on its hands. Socialism will do that, I hear.

Thousands of companies suffer under currency controls that all but deny them the U.S. dollars they need to import vital items into this oil-rich country, from food to cars to spare parts — even gasoline. Venezuelan firms must sell their wares at state-controlled prices that don’t reflect the 22 percent inflation rate, the highest in Latin America. Even Venezuela’s socialist government admits the controls don’t work — but its attention is focused on the April 14 election to replace the late President Hugo Chavez.

It’s a largely improvised economic policy that, despite oil earnings, has turned people’s lives upside down and produced shortages of flour, coffee, butter and medicines. It’s also a mess that will immediately challenge whoever becomes the president of this 28 million-person country.