They turned to Chavez, a failed coup leader. He had a common touch and exhorted Venezuelans to reject the country's "false democracy of elites" and join his "revolution of the poor" aimed at helping the downtrodden and building a Latin America strong enough to stand up to the United States.
In the short term, Chavez should reap political benefit from the recall vote, analysts said.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez emerged stronger, at least in the short term, from Sunday's referendum, in which nearly 60 percent voted against his removal.
(Marcelo Hernandez -- AP)
But Chavez has done little to create a new political system with institutions capable of replacing the old order, analysts said. Opposition leaders complain that he is uninterested in negotiation and has weakened institutions with his authoritarian style. His loosely organized party is largely built around his image.
"For Chavez, there aren't political adversaries. There are enemies. And the enemy, you destroy," said Humberto Calderon, a leader of the opposition coalition.
For his part, Chavez complains that his opponents are not seeking to compete politically but to destabilize his government -- as they did with the coup and general strike.
"What is the goal of the opposition? To destroy the institutions. They are using democracy to destroy democracy," said Samuel Moncada, a top aide to Chavez.
The fury unleashed by such confrontation is evident in the streets of this capital, where the poor and moneyed classes are more separated than ever. On Tuesday, a riot nearly erupted in the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Palos Grandes when a well-known actor and Chavez supporter, Fernando Jaramillo, entered a French cafe. Immediately, patrons started banging on the tables and yelling, "Get out! Get out!"
Diners leapt up and surrounded the actor, shouting and tossing glasses of water at him. Finally, a security guard escorted him out.