Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state who lost to Chavez in October, was conciliatory in a televised address Tuesday.
‘‘This is not the moment to highlight what separates us,’’ Capriles said. ‘‘This is not the hour for differences; it is the hour for union, it is the hour for peace.’’
Other opposition leaders were more critical of the military stance.
‘‘When all Venezuela wants unity and peace, and a climate of respect between Venezuelans predominates, they’re contrasted by what’s unacceptable, the declarations of the minister of defense, that are, besides false, unconstitutional,’’ said Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, executive secretary of the opposition coalition.
If elected, Maduro would still face a stiff challenge replacing the ultra-charismatic Chavez, who parlayed a folksy nationalism and stiff resolve into a virtual one-man government, maintaining support among the poor despite food shortages, rampant crime and inflation topping 20 percent.
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.
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 behavior 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.
In a speech later announcing the death, a shaken and somber Maduro called for peace, love and reconciliation among all Venezuelans.
Many mourners at Wednesday’s procession took their cue from the more virulent Maduro speech, venting anger at Washington and accusing Venezuela’s opposition of conspiring with far-right U.S. forces to undermine the revolution.
‘‘The government of the United States is not going to rest,’’ said Oscar Navas, a 33-year-old fruit vendor and Chavez supporter who joined the procession. ‘‘It’s going to continue conspiring against our revolution because we are anti-imperialists. I don’t have the slightest doubt the CIA is here, undercover, doing whatever it can to destabilize our country.’’
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 in the wake of Chavez’s death, but acknowledged that sudden rapprochement was unlikely given the Latin American country’s upcoming presidential election.
They expressed displeasure with the expulsion of two U.S. military officials in 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.’’
She and the other officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The U.S. is still reviewing whether to take reciprocal action for the expulsion of the American attaches, the officials said.
Associated Press writers Christopher Toothaker, Jorge Rueda and Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas and Bradley Klapper in Salt Lake City, Utah, contributed to this report.
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