One year after Hugo Chavez, his successor and Venezuela are struggling

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. Amid all the social protest and violence that has rocked Venezuela in recent weeks, the country marks this week the one year anniversary of the death of Hugo Chavez. The late president of Venezuela passed away on March 5th, last year. Since then, Venezuela's problems seem to have gotten worse. The economy has been unravelling with an inflation rate at 56%, one of the highest in the world. The crime rate has also spiked and included the very high profile murder recently of a former beauty queen. And now, the anti-government protest.

Rory Carroll is the author of Comandante: Hugo Chávez's Venezuela. He was based in Caracas as the Latin American bureau chief for the Guardian and Observer newspapers from 2006 to 2012. Rory, where did you expect Venezuela to be 12 months after the passing of Chavez?

Rory Carroll: I expected things to worsen but not as fast as this. I've been surprised as to how the unravelling has accelerated. Nicolas Maduro, the successor to Hugo Chavez, inherited a very dysfunctional economy and lots of problems but he's made a pretty fast job of making them worse. The protests we're seeing now are a direct consequence of that.

Werman: Aside from the speed of the unravelling, what do you find most surprising about what's happening right now?

Carroll: These certain protests and the fact that they've been sustained for almost a month now is really quite surprising to me because under Hugo Chavez, protests were quite regular but they tended to be quite fleeting. You would see students in the streets protesting, or sometimes it would be pensioners or doctors or whatever group that would have a grievance, usually economically related, but the government would have the ability to basically buy them off, often. As a petrostate, to be able to promise them more money and also Hugo Chavez had very good political instincts. He's a very shrewd operator, despite the bombastic persona and he often knew when to draw back. He knew how to intimidate but also not to go too far, lest he would aggravate things. Nicolas Maduro doesn't have those political skills and he doesn't have the same amount of money, of oil revenues that Hugo Chavez had. That's why we're seeing the government making all of these missteps. They've been very heavy handed in repressing the protests, which has only served to fuel the anger of the protesters.

Werman: What are the skills that Nicolas Maduro has?

Caroll: In theory, he has a great story to tell. He's a former bus driver and he just kind of rose up through the ranks of the government. He could be the everyman. He could be your next door neighbor who's now the president. Yet he doesn't have the common touch. He doesn't have the rhetorical flourishes and capacity that Hugo Chavez had to show empathy for the poor because under Chavez, although the wheels were coming off of the economy towards the end of his rule and his life, the poor always felt he was on their side, that he was in their corner, even if the murder rates outside of their front door were out of control. Maduro just doesn't have the same capacity, he doesn't have the same skills of communication to make the poor really feel that he's their guy.

Werman: You live in Los Angeles now, Rory, and it was striking how the other night at the Oscars a number of celebrities mentioned their support for the opposition in Venezuela. Jared Leto, in his acceptance speech, Forest Whitaker and Kevin Spacey on Twitter. Any thoughts on this?

Carroll: It's the first time that I have seen that because until now, anytime Hollywood would be somehow involved in Venezuela, it was usually a small group of left wing people such as Sean Penn or Oliver Stone who would express support for Chavez. Everybody else would either ignore it or let it pass. Now, for the first time, we're seeing Venezuela mentioned in the same breath as Ukraine or even Syria, which frankly is a stretch. But I think that's a worrying sign for Nicolas Maduro, that Hollywood is waking up to the fact that not all is well in Venezuela and the rest of the world is waking up to that.

Werman: The Guardian's former man in Caracas, Rory Carroll, the author of Comandante: Hugo Chávez's Venezuela. Thanks very much for your thoughts, Rory. We appreciate it.

Carroll: Thank you Marco. It's been a pleasure.