Even After Death, Chavez Gets Choice of Successor

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"This is very dark," he said. "This is the most nebulous period, the most menacing that the government has been, and the actions have been pretty severe."

Those actions have included hauling into court last week a leading opposition politician, Leopoldo Lopez, to face charges of influence peddling in a 15-year-old case that his lawyers say has passed the statute of limitations.

Lopez, who calls the charges ludicrous, ran logistics for Capriles in the Oct. 7 election after the government barred him from running for office.

In the absence of Chavez, the government is more aggressively seeking "to selectively destroy" opposition activists, Lopez said.

In his case, Lopez expects to be burdened by considerable legal distractions as he helps try to dislodge the Chavistas from power.

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Christopher Toothaker and Jorge Rueda in Caracas, Vivian Sequera in Bogota, Colombia, and Luis Alonso and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

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Frank Bajak on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fbajak

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