Chavez still ‘alive’ in Venezuela a year after dying of cancer

Protesters prepare to sling stones from a makeshift catapult towards Venezuelan national guard troops during an anti-government demonstration in Caracas, March 5

Though he died a year ago, Hugo Chavez still presents a weekly show on Venezuelan state television.

In the last episode, he showed off poverty reduction data, railed at the “bourgeoisie” for looting the nation’s oil wealth, and accused the opposition of fomenting instability during an hours-long monologue from the presidential palace.

The weekly retransmission of Chavez’s famous “Hello President!” program is just one example of how his successor, President Nicolas Maduro, has kept the socialist leader’s image alive ever since his March 5, 2013, death from cancer at age 58.

Elsewhere, a stylized image of Chavez’s eyes – reminiscent of an Andy Warhol print – watches Venezuelans from murals in the barrios of Caracas and T-shirts worn by supporters.

A man dressed as former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez embraces a man during the Carnival festival in Caracas March 4, 2014

His trademark squiggly signature looms large on the sides of scores of apartment buildings put up under the government’s “Great Housing Mission” begun toward the end of his 14-year rule.

Many official ceremonies begin with a recording of his booming voice singing the national anthem, reducing some supporters to tears. During the recent protests against Maduro, riot police have even been using loudspeakers to blast a popular song interpreted by the late leader at protesters.

Calling himself Chavez’s “son,” Maduro constantly cites the “eternal Comandante” in his speeches. He even appears to have adopted his theatrical gestures, dramatic voice cadence, and habits of signing important documents in public on live TV.

Nowhere is devotion to Chavez felt stronger than in the January 23 neighborhood, a humble pro-government stronghold on the slopes of western Caracas overlooking the Miraflores presidential palace. The president is buried there.

“For us, the supreme comandante didn’t die,” said Elizabeth Torres, a 49-year-old who maintains a roadside altar dedicated to “St. Hugo Chavez” near the mausoleum where his remains lie.

“He lives in each of our hearts.”