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Why Venezuela is so divided

By Paula Newton, CNN
updated 6:17 AM EDT, Wed April 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Venezuela: Seven people were killed and 61 were injured in post-election violence
  • Nicolas Maduro secured 50.8% of votes, while Henrique Capriles Radonski won 49%
  • Despite world-topping oil reserves, food shortages are rampant
  • Venezuela predicts the country could see inflation hit 30% this year

Caracas, Venezuela (CNN) -- As if on cue, Ermelinda Briceno entered the makeshift shrine to Hugo Chavez and shed a tear. This place of reverence to "el Comandante," the president of Venezuela for 14 years, popped up in this poor neighborhood after Chavez's death last month.

Briceno said her devotion to Chavez is unshakable. But she understands why even some who supported the late president were reluctant to vote for his handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro.

"I think a lot of people didn't know Maduro so they didn't vote (for him) but here we are, it was very close," Briceno said.

For this country of 29 million, struggling economically, the election was perhaps too close for comfort.

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At least seven people were killed and 61 were injured in post-election violence across Venezuela, state media reported Tuesday, citing Venezuela's top prosecutor. While the government claims these attacks were against government supporters, CNN could not independently verify the reports.

Maduro secured 50.8% of votes in Sunday's election, while opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski won 49%, Venezuela's National Electoral Council said.

As the crisis continues, the economy limps along. Even Venezuelan government predictions indicate the country could see inflation hit 30% this year, one of the highest rates in the world.

And then there are the food shortages. Currency restrictions and price controls have compromised the economy; there are shortages of basic goods like flour, sugar, rice, even cornmeal, a Venezuelan staple.

We went to one bakery in central Caracas where the owner told us he was working with his last three sacks of flour. The bakery is limiting purchases of bread to four loaves per purchase until the supply of flour stabilizes.

It's a situation that's difficult to understand considering Venezuela is a petro-state with the largest proven reserves of oil on the planet.

"I have no idea when I'm going to get any more flour and usually I have about 50 sacks on hand for the month," said the bakery owner, who did not want to be identified for fear of government retribution.

Fear seems to be rising among Venezuelans, no matter who they voted for. The government's threats against the opposition grow more ominous by the hour.

"You will not go downtown to Caracas to fill it with blood and death," Maduro warned the opposition, saying their protests were illegal. He added that he believed the United States was funding and encouraging the protests.

Henrique Capriles responded with a call for calm, yet another demand for an election recount, and most importantly a plea for protesters to ignore his earlier calls to protest on Wednesday and stay home instead. He said he feared the government would incite violence at what he hoped would be a peaceful demonstration.

READ MORE: Venezuela state media: 7 dead in post-election violence

"The government wants to use the violence so that we don't talk about the issue that brought us to this point, " Capriles said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Back at the Chavez shrine, where he is already known as "Santo Hugo Chavez," a saint, there seems little interest in following the sparring between the government and the opposition. People were returning to work and school and making their way onto the crowded commuter buses that wind through the poor barrios.

But this is hardly the "divine inspiration" Chavez had hoped to give Venezuela after grooming his successor before his death. Maduro had a double-digit lead over the opposition after Chavez's death but that evaporated in a short, 10-day campaign. Even the opposition told CNN they considered this a "miracle."

And it suggests some loss of enthusiasm in Venezuela's Chavista socialist movement -- if not its namesake.

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