El Cid lives


The late president Hugo Chávez is being compared in Venezuela these days to El Cid. As legend had it, the corpse of the dead Castilian leader, had been strapped to his horse and sent into battle to inspire his troops. And Chávez too, it is being said, ever larger than life, and death, seems to have inspired a posthumous victory, securing by at least his spiritual presence the narrow election of his loyal right-hand man and chosen heir.

Venezuela’s dour president-elect, Nicolas Maduro (50) , who has won by the smallest margin of any Venezuelan election in 50 years, may have been inspired by Chávez, but is hardly cut from the same cloth. A former bus driver he launched his own campaign by proclaiming: “We’re all going in the bus of the fatherland, which has a driver. Here he is, Chávez’s driver!”

He will certainly find it much harder than his hero to hold together the disparate coalition which may see in his disputed election a chance to move against him.And a protracted election dispute could cause instability in a deeply-polarised state with the world’s largest oil reserves but which is seeing signs of a tapering- off of growth and of inflation taking off. He will find it difficult to dismantle cumbersome economic controls and any rapprochement with Washington that he is believed to support.

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda state, yesterday refused to accept the official result claiming to have a list of some 3,000 irregularities But he has shocked many Venezuelans by reducing to just less than two points the 11-percentage-point lead Chávez had over him last October.

As a candidate, as he did last year, Capriles managed to draw together and inspire a fractious opposition that drew support across the political spectrum, united by one thing hatred of Chávez. Whether he can maintain that unity and momentum as he disputes the election is another matter. Maduro’s best hope of retaining power may rest not in his own uncertain strength, but the opposition’s divisions.