VENEZUELA VOTES – AT 9:58 AM. ET: Venezuela goes to the polls today to elect a president, and there is a chance, a fairly good chance, that Hugo Chavez can be defeated. That assumes an honest count, which I wouldn't assume. From WaPo:
CARACAS, Venezuela — Weakened from battling cancer and visibly bloated, President Hugo Chavez is fighting for his political life in Sunday’s presidential election, as he faces a charismatic challenger who has energized a once-disunited opposition in a way none of the populist leader’s foes ever has.
At stake is the president’s experiment to remake Venezuela, a 14-year transformation characterized by the expropriation of private companies, diplomatic initiatives to counter U.S. influence and a near-mystical bond with the country’s poor masses.
Two established pollsters show Chavez, 58, with a substantial advantage, underscoring the loyalty of millions he has commanded since sweeping into power in 1998. But two others have Chavez and Henrique Capriles, 40, a lawyer and former governor who has never lost an election, in a virtual dead heat.
“This is seriously competitive,” said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Americas program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “I would say it’s the first time since Chavez was elected that the accumulated learning experience of the opposition and the accumulated problems of the country have brought the race to a place where it’s almost too close to call.”
The election is almost certainly being watched closely by Iran, which has found an ally in Venezuela, and myriad small countries in Latin America that have received aid in return for opposing Washington.
The Iranian connection is critical. There have been reports that Iran is establishing military facilities in Venezuela. It certainly has clandestine activities there. If it gets the nuclear bomb, it would be comparatively easy to smuggle an atomic weapon into the United States, probably in parts, through our porous southern border.
The outcome is also expected to be tracked by energy markets. Venezuela recently surpassed Saudi Arabia as the country with the biggest certified oil reserves, and Chavez is considered a price hawk within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, an organization Venezuela helped found.
Capriles campaign officials said they believe that the large number of undecided voters identified in some polls will back the challenger at the ballot box, leading to Chavez’s defeat. That bold prediction is buttressed by the opposition’s revival after years of uninspired campaigning and the disenchantment many Venezuelans express to pollsters about decaying infrastructure, rampant violent crime and shoddy services.
But the president’s advantage is undeniable. State media have delivered fawning campaign coverage while the Chavez administration has doled out refrigerators, new apartments and other gifts to prospective voters.
COMMENT: Yeah, that's the way it's done. Give the voters a gift, or a check, in exchange for a vote. It's been noted that the Obamans have established programs to give out cell phones in poor communities. That may be admirable in certain respects, but let's not ignore the political implications.
Even if Chavez won, his very poor health may make the election moot in a short period of time. The key here is that he's facing a democratic opposition that understands just what he's doing to the country. But many voters, if they get their checks on schedule, will not understand.
Recently Chavez said that, if he were an American, he'd vote for Obama. Gee, I wonder why. You don't think our appeasement of Venezuela has anything to do with it, do you?
We may have results tonight.
October 7, 2012