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Gallup poll finds Venezuelans torn between loyalty for Chavez and reality of the state of the country

LatinaLista — Though the former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, enjoyed high approval ratings before his recent death, many Venezuelans feel he left the country in worst shape than ever, according to a new Gallup Poll. His legacy and its effect on Sunday’s elections were the premise of Gallup’s special report on Venezuela.

Hugo Chávez, left, and Nicolás Maduro, Chavez's hand-picked successor, in Caracas last year. Photograph: AP
Hugo Chávez, left, and Nicolás Maduro, Chavez’s hand-picked successor, in Caracas last year. Photograph: AP

In the Gallup report Special Briefing: Chavez’s Legacy and Venezuela’s Future, surveyors asked Venezuelans a number of questions dealing with the country’s politics and economy. Their answers reflect that many Venezuelans, who may have admired Chavez, weren’t blind to his failings.

In the Gallup report, a majority of Venezuelans believed that corruption was widespread among businesses in the country and figured prominently in the Chavez government as well.

Chavez’s critics in Venezuela depicted him as a near-tyrant with a record of cronyism. In fact, the government became much larger and more powerful during Chavez’s rule, and large majorities of Venezuelans saw it as corrupt in his final six years. In 2012, 63% of Venezuelans believed there was corruption in government, similar to the 68% who said so in 2011. This would seem to support the opposition’s narrative that Chavez ran a corrupt, unaccountable government. Chavez also made combatting corruption a major plank of his platform in his original campaign for office, indicating much of the country believes his government failed to deliver on this objective. However, this failure does not seem to have had much impact on Chavez’s overall popularity.

However, surprisingly, those surveyed felt that Venezuelan elections were honest and the media had a lot of freedom.

If Chavez was granting himself an excessive amount of authority over the election system — as his opponents claim — many Venezuelans did not seem to notice. In 2012, 59% of the country believed in the honesty of elections, a record high, and a propitious number for a country about to embark on a new set of elections. And, 66% said the media has a lot of freedom — equal to the median for Latin American and Caribbean countries. The 66% saying the media has a lot of freedom in Venezuela also represents an increase from 2011, when 58% of Venezuelans said the same.

However, the role of the media in national campaigns is once again coming under scrutiny. Maduro’s television advertisements have broadcasted much more often than those spots supporting Capriles; in fact, Capriles is afforded only one 30-second ad per day. Meanwhile, Capriles has accused the military of assisting the government in helping to churn out voters.

Politics aside, the most basic issues that resonate with residents of any country — personal safety — took a nosedive in the survey with the vast majority declaring they don’t feel safe to even walk alone at night.

Compared with the rest of the region, Venezuela is unique in the relatively high percentage of residents who do not feel safe walking alone at night. In 2012, 74% of adults said they felt unsafe walking alone at night, far higher than in any other Latin American country — a region where residents feel less safe than in any other regions of the world — and one of the highest measurements in all of the 160 countries where Gallup surveys. Moreover, this figure has remained remarkably high over the past six years, suggesting a failure by the Chavez government and the need for whomever his replacement is to address this important issue.

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