Will Chavez's unfulfilled promises affect Sunday's election?
Worsening power outages, crumbling infrastructure, and other unfulfilled promises could impact Sunday's election to replace socialist President Hugo Chavez, who died last month.
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Maduro, who was sworn in as interim president the day of Chavez's funeral, said Thursday that the state power utility would be completely restructured, and blamed a recent surge in outages on sabotage by sympathizers of his challenger Sunday, opposition leader Henrique Capriles.Skip to next paragraph
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He also said during the speech in Caracas that closed his campaign that the government had arrested more than 30 saboteurs but gave no other details.
The day after the election, Maduro said, he would declare the electric sector "a state security service" and militarize it. That could criminalize speaking publicly about its defects.
Rinaldi, a computer technician, was accused of sabotage in his termination notice, which he vehemently denies.
The government crackdown hasn't stopped blackouts — or complaints.
During a campaign stop in the Amazon city of Puerto Ayacucho on Saturday, crowds shouted "Lights! Lights! Lights" at Maduro. Newspapers reported that prompted state TV to nearly mute its crowd-monitoring microphone.
Attempts to seek comment from the state-run electric utility, Corpoelec, were unsuccessful. No one picked up the main phone. Corpoelec's president is Argenis Chavez, a brother of the late president.
In Valencia, Martinez and his wife, Aura, regularly turn off their TV and air conditioner in anticipation of nightly blackouts. A power spike damaged the air conditioner about month ago.
Asked whether the Chavistas deserve to stay in power, Martinez set off on a controlled tirade about the worsening challenges of daily life including food shortages and a halt in deliveries of cooking gas, for which he now must queue.
"There's no need to even discuss politics because there is no need to explain what is right before one's eyes," he said, motioning at the darkened street.
Martinez is voting for Capriles.
In a government video from 2009, a sunny female voice describes a rail line speeding nearly 100,000 people a day along a route connecting Venezuela's main port, Puerto Cabello, with Valencia and the country's other major central city, Maracay.
She says it will be ready in 2012.
Yet not a single section is complete after a decade of construction.
The railway may be the most visible symbol of unfulfilled promises in Chavez's 14-year presidency. It is the heart of his ambitious plan to create a network of lines across Venezuela, a nation that now has a sum total of 40 kilometers (25 miles) of operating tracks.
In Maracay, three-story concrete pylons linked by monstrous girders parallel Venezuela's main central highway. The elevated rail bed halts abruptly at road crossings. There are phantom stations.
"This is going really slow," construction worker Anselmo Mendoza, 46, said while walking atop one section, its steel bolts, plates and rebar coated with rust. "There isn't any type of coordination."
Mendoza has been on the job nine years. Most days, he and his co-workers try to keep busy with work often unrelated to actual construction.
Billions have been spent so far on the 128-kilometer (80-mile) project.
Transportation Ministry spokesman Alexis Cabrera was asked for information on construction delays and budgets. He said he would need to ask the minister for permission, but didn't call back.
At campaign rallies, Capriles always rattles off a list of Chavez's unfinished projects.
On Wednesday night in Venzuela's second city, Maracaibo, he mentioned one of the most striking examples: A second bridge over the lake that bears the city's name. Chavez laid the bridge's first stone in 2006. A year later, he returned to lay the first stone a second time. Nothing more has happened.
"They don't do planning," Celia Herrera, a civil engineering professor at Central Venezuela University who advises Capriles, said of the government.
Another suspected reason for uncompleted projects: corruption.
"They've said a ton of times that they are filling potholes, but it turns out that they aren't filling anything," Herrera said of the government's "Fiesta of Asphalt" program.
Maduro has generally avoided references to public works on the campaign trail, although on a stop this week in Apure state, he did apologize for a delayed highway extension, maternity hospital and bridge, promising to finish them.
Beneath one section of the unfinished elevated railway in Maracay, a handful of men sat idly on a bulldozer and two dump trucks under a punishing sun on a recent day. Then they pushed some dirt around and moved debris beneath the rails' shadow.