'No one who can step into those shoes'
Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said Maduro won't be able to harness "Chavismo" as Chavez did so successfully, but she expects him to win any upcoming presidential vote.
"There's really no one who can step into those shoes," she said.
In addition to spiraling crime and shortages of basic goods, the next administration must also control a ballooning public debt that has quadrupled to $102 billion since Chavez took office in 1999, despite Venezuela's booming oil exports
Maduro's Jekyll-and-Hyde-like behaviour Tuesday has stoked worries about a future government.
He used a speech just before Chavez's death to lash out at the United States and internal opponents he accused of plotting to destabilize the government. He pointed to shadowy forces as being behind the president's cancer and expelled two American military attaches he charged with spying.
Then, in a televised appearance to announce the death, a shaken and somber Maduro called for peace, love and reconciliation among all Venezuelans.
Venezuela and the United States have a complicated relationship, with Chavez's enemy to the north remaining the top buyer of Venezuelan oil. But Chavez's inner circle has long claimed the United States was behind a failed 2002 attempt to overthrow him, and he has frequently used anti-American rhetoric to stir up support. Venezuela has been without a U.S. ambassador since July 2010 and expelled a U.S. military officer in 2006.
In Washington, senior Obama administration officials said Wednesday they hoped to rebuild the U.S.-Venezuelan relationship, but acknowledged that a quick rapprochement was unlikely given the Latin American country's impending presidential election.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter, expressed displeasure with the expulsion of the two U.S. military officials by Venezuela and Maduro's accusations that the U.S. was somehow responsible for Chavez's cancer.
"Yesterday's first press conference was not encouraging," a senior official said. "It disappointed us."
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