Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela marks anniversary of Hugo Chavez's death

A child dressed as former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at a parade during the Carnival festival in Caracas on 4 March, 2014
Thousands of families are expected to attend the parade in honour of the late Venezuelan leader

Venezuela is marking the first anniversary of the death of Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer after 14 years as president.

His successor, Nicolas Maduro, is leading a parade and a ceremony later at the military headquarters in Caracas where Chavez is buried.

The anniversary comes at a time of tension, with people staging daily anti-government demonstrations.

Venezuelans are deeply divided about Chavez's legacy.

'Unwavering support'

His supporters point to the significant reductions in inequality, poverty and malnutrition which Venezuela experienced under his leadership to explain their unwavering backing for "Chavismo", his distinct brand of socialism.

His critics accused him of being "dictatorial" and of championing the poor at the expense of Venezuela's middle class.

They say he and President Maduro, who has promised to continue the policies of his predecessor, have ruined the economy of the oil-rich country by alienating foreign investors.

Tens of thousands of people have taken part in marches over the past month demanding that more be done to curb insecurity and improve the economy.

Venezuela has one of the world's highest murder rates and official figures published in December put inflation at 56.2%.

There have also been pro-government marches, during which thousands of people have expressed their support for Mr Maduro, whom they describe as Chavez's "son" and "heir".

Wednesday's ceremonies will be attended by left-wing leaders from the region, including Cuba's Raul Castro, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, and Bolivia's Evo Morales.

A man walks past a mural of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez in Caracas on 4 March, 2014
Murals praising Mr Chavez adorn many walls in Caracas, especially in poorer areas of the capital
A protester carries a sign reading Peace as thousands of protesters march in an anti-government demonstration on 2 March, 2014, in Caracas
The opposition has held a series of mass rallies in Caracas in recent weeks

Opposition leaders have asked their supporters to "respect" the anniversary and to avoid further clashes with security forces, although a march has been scheduled to take place in the central city of Valencia.

At least 18 people have been killed since the protests began in early February.

Police said they had removed a number of barricades erected by protesters in the opposition stronghold of Chacao on Wednesday morning.

Ten bus routes had to be suspended due to disruption caused by the barricades, the city's bus company said.

A water cannon is fired at protesters in Caracas on 4 March, 2014
Security forces were out in force in the capital on the eve of the anniversary