Maduro Says Chavez as a Bird Blessed His Bid to Head Venezuela

Acting President Nicolas Maduro said Hugo Chavez gave his blessing through a small bird on the first day of his official campaign for the presidency as he looks to capitalize on the popularity of the former socialist leader.

Maduro, speaking from Chavez’s home state of Barinas one month after the ex-president’s death, said he went to a chapel to pray when the bird appeared and circled him three times before whistling to him.

“I felt his spirit,” Maduro said in a televised speech broadcast from Chavez’s former home in the town of Sabaneta. “I felt him there as though he were giving us a blessing, saying to us: ‘Today the battle begins. Onwards to victory. You have our blessing.’”

Maduro, whom Chavez named as his successor days before flying to Cuba for an operation to treat an undisclosed form of cancer, is pitted against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski. The former bus driver and union leader who served as foreign minister for six years has called Chavez the “redeemer of the poor” and that he had earned a place in heaven alongside Jesus Christ.

“It is very clear what’s going on here,” said Washington-based Eric Farnsworth, vice president at the Council of the Americas. “He’s trying to claim the mantle of divinity, of being touched by the departed Chavez. The message is anyone who doesn’t vote for Maduro is voting against the wishes of the departed leader.”

Maduro has 55 percent support against 35 percent for Capriles, according to a poll by Caracas-based Hinterlaces. The survey of 1,100 people was carried out between February and March and has a margin of error of 3 percent, the agency said in an e-mail yesterday.

Chavez defeated Capriles by 11 percentage points in an election in October. Maduro is capable of continuing Chavez’s socialist work, Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in a video broadcast yesterday by Venezuelan state television.