There were also expectations that the government would raise the costs of many items, the prices of which are set by the state, including toothpaste, toilet paper, and dishwashing liquid. These items have been in short supply as producers, arguing that they can't make a profit at current prices, have reduced output.
Key decisions on these and other policies now seem to be indefinitely delayed in the ongoing power vacuum. During his 14 years as president, Chávez eroded the autonomy of the country's political institutions, and was personally involved in nearly every key decision. His absence has now paralyzed the government, with seemingly no one willing to take control.
Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, who unsuccessfully ran against Chávez in October and is expected to be the opposition candidate if new elections are held, criticized the government for not moving to solve the country's problems. Those who don't know how to govern "cover up the reality with insults and threats," he said at a local council meeting.
Maduro and others have said that Chávez is more and more animated, talking and showing signs of recovery, but doubts persist. Maduro said that Chávez appointed former Vice President Elías Jaua as the country's new foreign minister and showed a document on television bearing the president's signature. The opposition quickly pounced, saying that if Chávez was well enough to sign documents, why couldn't he make a call to the state television station to let people know he was alive and recuperating?
"I think we would have heard from Chávez by now if he were able to speak," says Risa Grais-Targow, an analyst with Eurasia Group. "That he hasn't appeared suggests his condition is very delicate."
The country's Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that Chávez could stay indefinitely abroad while remaining head of state. The justices also rejected opposition calls for an independent medical commission to examine the president to see if he is still fit for office.
The reason is simple: If Chávez were unable to serve, Cabello would become acting president and would have to schedule fresh elections within 30 days. Backers of the president may be stalling to allow Maduro more time to grow into the job while the deification of Chávez progresses.
Meanwhile, state television runs constant footage of Chávez embracing children and elderly women. They also released a remix of John Lennon's "Imagine" with new revolutionary lyrics. "Imagine Venezuela, leaving forever in peace," the song suggests. But the president's most fervent supporters have shorter term concerns, Neumann warns. "Venezuelans, even those who support Chávez, will be fed up after another month of this," she says.