‘Maduro is old hand in the government, would pursue same policies as Chavez’

Most Venezuelans are leaning towards continuing on the course Chavez set and Maduro is the one who would pursue these policies, Dr Francisco Dominguez, the head of Latin American studies at Middlesex University in Britain told RT.

RT:Polls suggest Nicolas Maduro is set to win the election. But he is widely seen simply as a proxy for Chavez. Is he likely to retain this backing if he is elected?

Francisco Dominguez: I think if he continues with the policies of Chavez’s government - that is to say the social programs, the redistribution of wealth, the free health, free education, expansion, increased democratic inclusion of the people and so on – there is no reason for him not to have this support. Judging by the size and the enthusiasm of the crowds he was able to draw out throughout the very short span of electoral campaigning, I think he will.

RT:But the social policies that Chavez has pursued have led to crumbling infrastructure, double-digit inflation, corruption and crime. Will Maduro be capable of handling these challenges?

FD: The economy of Venezuela last year grew at 5.8 per cent and according to the economic commission of Latin America in 2013 the Venezuelan economy is going to grow by 5.3 per cent. There have been massive improvements in infrastructure, motorways, bridges, new undergrounds, trains, busses and so on, and there is plenty more to do.

Regarding inflation, this was something that a few years ago was 32-35 per cent now it’s in the region of 20 per cent, all of these things have to be addressed of course, I think the economy is strong enough and the areas of the world economy that are growing are Latin America, to some degree Africa and certainly central Asia. And Latin America including Venezuela is quite well linked into it. I think it’s going to benefit continually from the relationship.

So, I don’t think there is too much to worry about there. The question is whether he will be able to manage what is coming ahead, given that he is an old hand in the government. He has been there since 1998, with various high level positions. I think he also has the experience.

RT:A lot of experience in the government, but what about the military, Chavez was in the military. He had a lot of influence and he had support from the military, you can’t say the same for Maduro, and it is very important to get that military backing isn’t it, in that country?

FD: Judging by the behavior of the military during this election, and during what we call the transition between Chavez being in Cuba and coming back, there was plenty of speculation that there would be some kind of split. I’m a very close observer of Venezuelan reality and I haven’t observed any single indication of that what-so-ever. And there is no reason why this can change.

Venezuela's acting President Nicolas Maduro holds a picture of the late president Hugo Chavez during a campaign rally in Catia la mar, state of Vargas (AFP Photo / Luis Acosta)

RT:Capriles is advocating a free market economy, will he not get a lot of support for that and is it not perhaps time for the country to change direction?

FD: It depends what you mean by a free economy. If you are in their shoes and you look around and see the crisis in the United States, you don’t want to go down that road, if you look at what deregulation and the free market economics have done to Europe, I’m sure they don’t want to go down that road. If they look around in Latin America and they see some serious state intervention, serious government participation in the economy, guiding intervention when necessary, then Latin America’s actual performance is pretty impressive compared to these other places that I’ve mentioned, so in that sense going back to totally unbridled free economics is not going to work and they’re not going to embrace it.

RT:You’ve mentioned the United States there, are we going to see any change in relations between the two? If Maduro gets in will we see the same policies being pursued?

FD: They were already talking. The Venezuelan government and the United States administration and the purpose of the talks, which actually were directed and led by Maduro, and now also by Elias Jaua, the current Vice President. The purpose of this conversation was to normalize relations between the two. Clearly there are very important sections within the Obama administration that want to normalize relations with one of the most important suppliers of oil that they have in the region.

Therefore everything was going fine until US assistant secretary Roberta Jackson said that she finds it very difficult to believe free and fair elections will take place in Venezuela. Venezuelans felt very offended for two reasons: one, they felt that this is not correct, and secondly this is an unacceptable interference with Venezuelan affairs. Therefore they stopped the conversation. So my sense is, that as soon as the air clears and as soon as Maduro is inaugurated, which I’m sure he will be as everybody has been predicting, then I’m sure those talks will resume and they will have tough negotiations ahead of them, Maduro and the United States. Latin America wants this to be sorted.