By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS (Reuters) - President Nicolas Maduro has spent more than 500 hours addressing Venezuela since winning power nearly three years ago, demonstrating a loquacity reminiscent of his late predecessor Hugo Chavez, according to a watchdog.
The tally, from the local Citizens' Monitor group which is critical of the government, was based on Maduro's so-called "chain" speeches, when all local broadcasters are required to transmit his words live.
Counting other speeches, carried only by state TV, the 53-year-old former bus driver and foreign minister has in fact spent far more time giving public addresses.
"In the first few weeks of this year, he surpassed 500 hours," the group said this week in a blog. "Every time the presidency holds a 'chain', they are denying Venezuelans their control over freedom of information and entertainment."
The 'chain' broadcasts were a cornerstone of Chavez's communicational strategy during his 1999-2013 presidency before he died of cancer. While often delighting supporters with his folksy style, jokes and songs, Chavez also irritated people by sometimes obliterating baseball games or soap operas.
Though a far less gifted speaker than Chavez, his self-styled "son" Maduro eagerly continued the 'chain' broadcasts after winning election to the OPEC nation's presidency in April 2013. He frequently says they are necessary because otherwise hostile media would not cover his welfare policies.
"Given the veto private media have on me, and given the invisibility of this march, we are going to hold a popular, democratic, free and revolutionary national chain," he began one such transmission from an oil workers' march this month.
Citizens' Monitor, which keeps track of the time Maduro speaks via a 'Chain-o meter' at its web site http://monitoreociudadano.org, estimated the state spends 255,000 bolivars for each minute of a transmission.
That would be about $40,000 per minute at the strongest official exchange rate of 6.3 to the dollar, or about $270 at the black market level.
(Editing by Girish Gupta and David Gregorio)