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Tough Times Ahead In Post-Chavez Venezuela

Neither Chavez successor Nicolas Maduro nor opposition candidate Gov. Henrique Capriles has delivered specific proposals to address the crisis, said Alejandro Gutierrez, an economics professor at the University of the Andes. The most effective solution would likely involve unpopular measures such as a mass devaluation of the currency to spur exports, or an end to price controls.

Capriles has spent much of the campaign trying to assure Chavistas he will not take away their government-funded social programs, while Maduro vows to continue the late leader's legacy, which would include the controls.

"We are facing a transition situation, and they are going to wait until this situation is cleared up," Gutierrez said Monday.

Only Capriles has suggested a possible way of injecting more dollars into the economy: Ending subsidized oil exports to Cuba that began under Chavez.

The late leader had aided his allies by providing oil at preferential terms to more than a dozen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba receives Venezuelan oil worth around $3.2 billion a year, estimates Jorge Pinon, a University of Texas energy analyst. Nicaragua gets about $1.2 billion worth of oil, according to economist Nestor Avendano.

Yet whoever wins the vote won't be able to put off action indefinitely. The wave of national mourning for Chavez and the heated campaign have so far masked the plight of dollar-poor food makers, dairy farmers, ranchers and auto manufacturers. But consumers are feeling the shortages of appliances, automobiles and staples such as flour, coffee, butter and medicines.

Venezuela's automakers are operating at 50 percent capacity because they don't have dollars needed for auto parts made abroad, according to Omar Bautista, president of a national carmakers group that includes Ford, General Motors and Mitsubishi. And foreign suppliers are hesitant to sell to Venezuela because they don't know when or if they'll be paid, Bautista said in remarks reported by Caracas' El Universal newspaper.

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