"Chávez still has an important level of popularity," says José Vicente Carrasquero, a political analyst at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. But there are significant numbers of people who "feel Chávez does not have the capacity to resolve the problems in the country. The fervor for him has diminished. It has been 11 years, and people still have the same problems."
In creating his brand of "21st-century socialism," which is redistributing wealth to the poor from the "oligarchy," as Chávez dubs the elite, the president has relied on oil revenues, and he has reduced poverty and illiteracy.
But as oil prices dropped and the world sank into financial crisis, Chávez's problems mounted. In local elections in 2008, his party lost many top posts throughout the country. Perhaps most stunning was his party's mayoral candidate's loss to the opposition in a Caracas municipality that includes the Petare slum, a traditional Chávez stronghold. Residents cited crime and inflation as their No. 1 concerns.
The economy shrank by 3.3 percent last year, and this year it is forecast to do the same. That makes it the only economy in Latin America expected to contract. Inflation hovers at around 30 percent. And Chávez has contended with a drought-induced electricity crisis, which for six months meant forced blackouts throughout the country.
Chávez responded to the economic woes by devaluing the currency this year. He has carried out a series of expropriations, too, the most recent a supermarket chain, after a string of nationalizations, including everything from the steel to telecommunication industries. All of this has paralyzed the private sector.