Venezuela Election: Has changed finally arrived?

7 Oct
Henrique Capriles at a rally last Sunday

Henrique Capriles at a rally last Sunday

Hugo Chávez at a rally on Thursday

Hugo Chávez at a rally on Thursday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hugo Chávez has held the seat of power in  Venezuela for fourteen years now. But with today’s election Chávez appears more vulnerable than ever before. While Chávez has been battling cancer, his opponent, Henrique Capriles, has been across the country holding rallies. Today, Chávez seeks another six year term which would put him in power until 2019. While polls differ many expect this to be the hardest election for Chávez and more worry about what might happen after the election.

Venezuela is currently at a point where many people are fed up with the poor economy and high crime rate. The rate of emigration in Venezuela has increased, the capital,Caracas, is now nicknamed ‘City of Farewells’. Unemployment is currently around 8% in the country. Government spending is hidden from Venezuelans and there is no transparency in the government. Recently, Hugo Chavez has been an absent leader traveling to Cuba for cancer treatments. Many are saying that he is at the end of his reign. Right when the Venezuelan chief appears to be at his weakest he is facing an opponent who is younger, enthusiastic and experienced.

Hugo Chávez, 58, has solely held the power in Venezuela for 14 years. During his 14 years in power, poverty and illiteracy rates have fallen, but crime and inflation has increased. He has been a political figure that is hard to define. While he has distributed wealth and brought much needed subsidies to the poor, he has also become somewhat of a dictator holding on  to all the power in the country. This past year, Chávez has been more absent than ever before, as he has undergone treatments for cancer. Chávez has never disclosed where he had cancer or what type of cancer he had, but he claims that he is now cured. It is no secret that cancer has slowed down the jugggernaut, as he has been unable to work for long periods of time due to the treatments. In his absence the public has witnessed the weakness of Chávez’s cabinet and his inability to manage. Chávez only appoints people who will not oppose him, not those that could actually help run the government. There appears to be no successor for Chávez, while he has been ailing other government officials appear lost. During this campaign Chávez has been absent from many of the rallies. However, this past Thursday he showed up at the last rally singing and dancing on stage, perhaps trying to show supporters that he is back and just as powerful as ever.

As part of his campaign Hugo Chávez has increased government spending on social programs in order to attract voters. A benefit that Chávez has in te election is that he controls the Venezuela’s airways. On one of the government run TV channels there is a program that shows the government giving keys to new homes or apartments to Venezuelans that are in need. Through this program of government’s giveaways Chávez is able to maintain his popularity despite his absence and the bad economy. His government has pledged to build 200,000 new housing units this year, although the opposition says that those numbers are exaggerated. The program shows Venezuelans receiving keys, crying and proclaiming Chávez’s goodness. What the program does not show is that the government plans to eventually sell the homes they are giving the keys to. Also, in order to speed up the construction of the homes many are not sound and are built poorly. Yet, there are still many Venezuelans that are enthusiastic Chávez supporters and believe he has vastly improved the country.

Running for the opposition is Henrique Capriles, who appears to be Chávez’s toughest opponent yet. Capriles, 40, started his political career at 27 when he became a national congress member. Since then he has also served as mayor and governor. All of the opposition parties came together and voted Capriles as their candidate. His campaign has been a smart, energetic campaign. He has toured the country, oftentimes holding two rallies in one day. Capriles has run his campaign with enthusiasm like Chávez used to. Unlike Chávez, Capriles keeps his rallies and speeches short. Last Sunday, at his closing campaign rally, hundreds of thousands came out to show their support for Capriles.

Henrique Capriles has positioned himself as a centrist. Unlike Chávez, Capriles has a reputation for managerial competence. He has stated that he wants to follow a Braziliam model of business friendly policies. Capriles has promised to continue wealth distribution and social programs, but manage them more efficiently. He has also promised to crack down on the country’s crime. Capriles critics accuse him of having a neoliberal agenda.

Oil is no doubt become a major campaign issue and is key in this election. Venezuela is now number one in the world for oil reserves, the Venezuelan economy is dependent on oil. Whoever wins the election will decide which countries are given priorities to the oil reserves. Although the US says that it is has stayed out of the election, some have accused the US of trying to influence the campaign in order to control Venezuela’s oil. Many oil companies, like BP and Shell, appear to be waiting for the election results to see if they will invest in Venezuela oil. Chávez has promised to continue to reduce Venezuela’s dependence on the US. He also plans to build a pipeline from the Colombia region to the Asian Pacific region in order to distribute easier to Asian countries like China. Capriles has promised to reform all current oil deals, some speculate that he plans of restoring relations with the US. The winner of today’s election will determine which way Venezuela’s oil market goes.

This election is expected to be the closest since Chavez took power. Polling data is Venezuela is manipulated, most of the polls show a wide range of possibilities. Some polls show Chávez ahead, some show the candidates neck and neck. Despite the polls, most US media shows it a extremely close race. Even though Capriles popularity has been rising there are a lot of Venezuelans that are scared to vote for him. Many fear that if they vote against Chávez they could be fired from their government jobs, or lose their government built homes. This year, the government has introduced a new electronic voting system that citizens fear could be used to track their vote. In 2004, the names of those that signed a petition to recall Chávez out of office were made public and some lost their government jobs. Some of Capriles’ supporters have told media that they plan to vote for Chávez because they fear what will happen if they don’t. “The government has sown fear,” Capriles said, “If we can overcome the fear, I believe that we can win this election be a million votes.” Last election, Chávez won by 62%. With discontent for Chávez rising, Capriles has gained popularity. Capriles is most popular in urban slums, while Chávez remains the favorite in rural areas. While it is clear that Chávez won’t win by 62% percent this year, analysts predict a close election but still show Chávez as winning.

The question is what the outcome of today’s election will bring to Venezuela. If Henrique Capriles wins the revolution dies, if Hugo Chávez wins the revolution will live on, as long as he is alive. Economists say that no matter who wins Venezuela faces a grim economy. Many Venezuelans fear uprise if Chávez wins butalso if the opposition wins. Chávez says that he will accept the results no matter what, but his supporters have said they will protest if he looses. Many expect the opposition to ask for a recall of votes if Chávez wins, some of the opposition says that there will be violence in the streets if Capriles does not win.

Without a doubt this is a critical election for Venezuela and will determine the direction of the country for the next six years. The world holds is breathe for the results as this election will determine what happens to the world’s biggest oil reserve. Henrique Capriles could be the end of Hugo Chávez’s reign, he could take Venezuela from extreme left to more centrist. However, there is no doubt that Chávez still has many enthusiastic supporters who are willing to fight for him. Jonathan Watts said it well, “On a global level, Sunday’s election is about who controls and distributes one of the world’s biggest recoverable oil reserves. For ideologues, it is a frontline battle between Bolivarian socialism and neoliberalism. But for most Venezuelan voters, it is about safety, fairness and a character who arguably inspires more love and hate than almost any other politician in the world.”

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