Venezuela’s socialist government has announced that a national day of “Loyalty and Love for Hugo Chavez” will coincide with nationwide municipal elections next month.
The plans to hold the commemoration to the late president, who died in March, on the same day as the 8 December elections has been described as “shameless electioneering” by the head of the country’s electoral commission.
Making the announcement surrounded by images of his bombastic predecessor, president Nicolas Maduro said: “The commander [Chavez] must receive infinite love from his people, who will preserve his legacy and example. Hugo Chavez turned 20 years of dark capitalism in Venezuela into a nation full of hope”, he said. “We must honour his memory.”
Vicente Díaz, the president of Venezuela’s national electoral council, said the decision to hold a national holiday celebrating Venezuelan socialism on the same date as nationwide congressional elections was “gross and shameless electoral opportunism”.
But responding to Mr Diaz, president Maduro said: “You have a perverse mind.
“You think that just because we have elections that we aren’t going to honour the grand memory of our fallen leader?”
Mr Maduro has spent much of his eight months as Venezuelan president talking about Mr Chavez.
Having campaigned heavily on the legacy of his predecessor, his increasingly bizarre announcements are beginning to wear thin on a public suffering under an ailing economy.
In the past two months alone Mr Maduro has announced the apparition of Hugo Chavez on the wall of a construction site and stated that he often sleeps beside the tomb of his predecessor in his Caracas mausoleum.
On 1 November, Mr Maduro announced that Christmas had come early in Venezuela by handing out presents and illuminating the nativity lights at the presidential palace to the bewilderment of his onlookers.
“He’s a joker”, said Mileidy Chirino, a slum resident in Caracas and one of millions of Chavistas growing increasingly tired of their president’s imitations.
“Every time he opens his mouth he becomes a laughing stock, we don’t want a president who is seen as a joke.”
While the president continues to talk about Chavez, the situation in Venezuela is becoming dire. Inflation has hit 54.3 per cent this week, the highest since records began, due in part to the central bank’s having printed and released into circulation £300 billion in unbacked currency.
Shortages of basic goods have driven up prices by 46 per cent across the board in a 12-month period, and crime rates see Caracas quickly becoming the most dangerous city in the world, with an average of 64 homicides occurring every day in the Venezuelan capital.
Mr Maduro’s socialist government “occupied” a chain of electronics stores on Saturday in a high-profile crackdown on what it views as unjustified price hikes which it claims are hobbling the country’s economy.
Authorities arrested various managers of the five-store, 500-employee Daka chain, sent soldiers into the shops and forced the company to start selling products at cheaper prices.
That brought crowds of bargain-hunters to Daka outlets and sparked looting at one store in the central city of Valencia.