Before 1958, the system was based on the caudillismo of military leaders like Marcos Pérez Jiménez. For the next 40 years, the system was based on
a two-party oligarchy, split between the nominally center-left Democratic Action and the nominally center-right Copei.
marked a rupture from this system in two ways. First, he diverted a larger share of Venezuela's oil wealth to the poor than ever before -- although the
deployment of those funds was never incredibly efficient, nor was it without corruption. Secondly, he flattened the system through his own personality
cult. PDVSA, the state oil company, has a stronger brand in Venezuela than the PSUV, the governing United Socialist Party. It was Chávez personally who doled out the gifts.
It's the second part that will make Maduro's task especially difficult. Chávez would have been a hard act for anyone to follow, but
Maduro is a bland apparatchik in contrast whose legitimacy, so long as he remains president, will forever be challenged by his narrow victory
. He ran a largely defensive campaign, wrapping himself in Chávez's legacy. Provided that his victory is upheld, it's hardly a mandate forchavismo, let alone madurismo, but it's not at all clear whether chavismo would ever actually work without Chávez, the personal embodiment of the latest iteration
of Venezuela's petro-state clientelism.
Maduro's weakness means it's more likely than not that Venezuela is headed for tough times ahead, even beyond the economic turmoil. Maduro spent negligible
amounts of time advocating anything more than the broadest slogans, but the opposition refrained from calling from any radical departure from Venezuela's
fundamental system, offering essentially a more workable chavismo that retains social welfare programs, but with less crime and a better business
Capriles pledged in particular to end subsidies to provide discounted oil to Cuba in exchange for somewhat dubious services from Cuban medical and
technical experts. But he raced to pledge, like Maduro, to raise the minimum wage by 40 percent, which is likely to accelerate crippling inflation in a
country where even broken-down, used cars appreciate in value.
Leopoldo López ranks among the brightest young stars of the broad opposition coalition that Capriles led in Sunday's election. López served as the mayor of
Chacao, one of Caracas's five municipalities, from 2000 to 2008 at the same time Capriles was the mayor of Baruta municipality.
Like Capriles, he's tanned and trim and just barely in his forties, and he's been a visible Capriles adviser throughout the short, frenzied campaign.
Unlike Capriles, however, he is the great-great-grand nephew of the libertador of Venezuela and much of South America, Simón Bolívar. If not for a
murky administrative ruling from Chávez's government banning him from running for public office until 2014, it may well have been López running against
Maduro on Sunday, and he argued on Friday at the opposition campaign headquarters in Caracas that Capriles's victory alone could fix much of what ails the