CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The late Hugo Chavez is being honored with a public holiday in Venezuela, though not everyone is celebrating because the effort to keep the socialist leader's legacy alive will coincide with elections.
President Nicolas Maduro decreed Dec. 8 "the day of loyalty and love" to commemorate Chavez's final speech and public appearance last year, three months before he died of cancer.
This year's holiday falls on the same day as elections for mayors across Venezuela that are being billed by the opposition as a referendum on Maduro's seven-month rule.
Vicente Diaz, one of five members of the National Electoral Council and the only one who frequently criticizes the government, denounced Tuesday's decree. In a message posted on Twitter, he called the holiday a "rude display of electoral opportunism."
Maduro was firm in a speech, saying that those questioning the holiday want to incite violence and destabilize his government.
"It would be a sign of weakness to yield to blackmail," he said after attending a military cannon salute to remember the eight-month anniversary of Chavez's death.
While Chavez's legacy is never far from Maduro's lips, the government has stepped up efforts to keep him in the public eye as it tries to manage an economic crisis that has emboldened the opposition.
On Monday, the government outlined plans to create a circuit of state-funded museums, a "Chavez route," taking tourists from the former president's birthplace on the plains of Venezuela to his final resting place in the former military barracks in Caracas where he commanded a failed 1992 coup.
Chavez in his final speech anointed Maduro as his successor. But the former foreign minister has struggled to step out from under his mentor's shadow as 50 percent inflation, shortages of basic goods like toilet paper and a plunge in the currency to one-sixth its official value on the black market erode support for the government.