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Chavez relatives rise in power, keeping myth alive

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Relatives of Hugo Chavez have taken powerful posts since he died three months ago, helping keep the late Venezuelan leader's mythical image alive, but analysts see little chance of another Chavez taking power.

His son-in-law and former science minister, Jorge Arreaza, was appointed vice president by President Nicolas Maduro after Chavez's death.

His oldest daughter, Rosa Virginia Chavez, is heading one of the firebrand leftist's popular social programs, the "Miracle Mission," which offers free eye surgery to the poor.

Argenis Chavez, the late leader's youngest brother, holds a top position in a branch of the supreme court.

His oldest brother, Adan Chavez, has been the governor of his home state of Barinas for the past four years, taking over from their father Hugo de los Reyes Chavez.

"This keeps the Chavez myth alive -- his name and image in a 'Chavismo' that lacks the type of leadership that Nicolas Maduro has not been able to incarnate," said Rafael Simon Jimenez, a former lawmaker who was a childhood friend of Chavez until distancing himself in 2002.

"It's a very united clan," said Jimenez, now a member of the New Time opposition party. He said breaking with the Chavez family is not in the interest of the ruling party.

Alberto Barrera Tyszka, co-author of the biography "Hugo Chavez Without Uniform: A Personal History," said Chavez relatives' roles in the government were part of the myth-building by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela to stay in power.

"It has given the country an unusual feeling of seeing a monarchy. It would appear that the Chavezes have the right for something just for being the blood heirs of the dead president," Barrera Tyszka said.

Vladimir Villegas, a journalist who was a deputy foreign minister under Chavez but is now a critic, said it was natural for the Maduro government to maintain "this link for emotional and political reasons, because the Chavez image is a model that is very difficult to separate from."

But unlike his Cuban allies, where Fidel Castro handed power to his brother Raul, Chavez never indicated that he would hand the reins to his relatives despite his siblings' own political experience.

"Chavez never thought about the possibility that one of his relatives succeed him. If that was the case, he would have prepared that when he was diagnosed with cancer (in 2011)," Jimenez said.

Instead, Chavez designated his vice president, Maduro, to succeed him before he went to Cuba in December to undergo a new round of surgery that proved futile. He died on March 5 and Maduro was elected as president on April 14.

Analysts doubt that a Chavez relative could aspire to be president.

Villegas and Jimenez said Chavez's daughters, who often appeared on television in tears during their father's marathon memorial service, could at best become mayor or lawmakers.

And Jimenez said Vice President Arreaza, who is married to Rosa Virginia, lacks the charisma of the garrulous Chavez, who had built a near mystical bond with his supporters.

Chavez, who married twice and had three daughters and one son, only began to make his personal life more public at the end of his 14-year rule.

But not all relatives have had the same exposure. Little is known about his son Hugo while his daughter Maria Gabriela became a fixture seen by his side, Barrera Tyszka said.

"Chavez's personal life became part of his publicity," the author said. "Venezuelans only knew things about the Chavez family that the promotional strategy wanted to show."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130625/chavez-relatives-rise-power-keeping-myth-alive