A tough act to follow for bus driver set to steer revolution
HUGO Chavez was the foremost leader of leftist politics across the region.
When he picked his favoured successor three days after winning his final election, he resoundingly declared: "This revolution doesn't depend on one man!"
With his passing, those words will now be put to the test. The red torch of Venezuela's "Revolution" will be handed to Nicolas Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver who became vice-president last October.
No one doubts that Mr Maduro, a loyal "Chavista", agrees with his deceased mentor on every substantive issue. Nonetheless, it remains a safe bet that some elements of the Revolution will die with Chavez.
In his last months, the late president liked to claim that Venezuela was governed by a collective leadership. Every citizen knew this to be absurd, for Chavez was the prime exemplar of one-man rule. Until cancer dragged the strength from him, he would take almost every decision himself, working into the early hours, scrawling his signature on official documents.
Instead of consulting his ministers, he would issue quixotic orders as the fancy took him, sometimes on live television. In 2008, Chavez threatened to wage war on neighbouring Colombia during an episode of 'Alo Presidente', his weekly talk show.
The cabinet became so moribund that Chavez did not even trouble to attend its meetings, ensuring that nothing big happened save by order of the "comandante" himself.
The resolutely unflamboyant Mr Maduro is unlikely to emulate this personalised method of government.
But key strands of the Revolution were running out of steam even in Chavez's lifetime. The essential, and entirely laudable, goal was to use Venezuela's oil wealth for the good of the poor, something which no previous president had seriously attempted.
The potential was immense, for Venezuela possesses the biggest proven oil reserves in the world: 296 billion barrels, compared with Saudi Arabia's 265 billion, according to BP's 'World Energy Review'.
Moreover, oil prices rose more than tenfold during Chavez's presidency, climbing from $10 per barrel when he won power in December 1998 to peak at $147 in July 2008. This delivered revenues of about $980 billion to PDVSA, the state oil company.
Chavez was able to spend billions on bringing healthcare and education to the poor, building clinics in the slums of Caracas. But Mr Maduro will know that this brand of economic management also rendered Venezuela more and more dependent on oil. © Daily Telegraph, London)