What is at stake for Venezuela?
A week before the polls, huge crowds come out in support of both candidates who offer differing visions for the country.
The streets of Venezuela’s cities have been packed as rival presidential candidates hold some of their final rallies before Sunday’s election.
“[Capriles] has been able to appeal to some disaffected Chavez voters… but if these documents are true and we don’t really know one week before the election whether Capriles is a neoliberal… or following the Brazilian model of social development, and that is rather breathtaking for where we stand right now.“
– Nikolas Kozloff, an author
Having battled cancer for most of last year, Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, is hoping to win another term in office. He has led the country since 1999.
If he succeeds, Chavez has promised to further expand his socialist programmes, which are mainly focused on the country’s poor.
However, his opponent Henrique Capriles, 40, says that Chavez’s policies have left the country with a multitude of problems, and has pledged a more pro-business approach.
A major campaign issue is violent crime – three Capriles supporters were shot dead on Sunday and the candidate himself has regularly blamed Chavez for the high murder rate in the country.
Most opinion polls predict a comfortable win for Chavez, but some predict a close race or put Capriles in the lead.
What is certain is that both candidates offer differing visions for their country.
Capriles wants to realign foreign policy back towards the positions of the US. He is also critical of Chavez using Venezuela’s huge oil reserves to help some of his Latin American neighbours.
“I’d call [Capriles] a centre-right politician but… he’s been smart enough to recognise that to win an election in Venezuela, you cannot run on a right wing platform… But what he tries to do and what his coalition, which include some very right-wing elements, will let him do, are two different things.“
– Daniel Hellinger, an author and a professor of political sciencec at Webster University
The Center for Economic and Policy Research has analysed the state of the Venezuelan economy. In particular it asked if Venezuela’s economic policy is sustainable.
After a collapse in oil prices the country’s economy went into recession between the first quarter of 2009 and the second quarter of 2010.
However, the recovery was robust and by 2011 the economy had grown by 4.2 per cent, and grew by 5.6 per cent in the first half of 2012.
The report suggests continued growth at a similar or higher pace for years to come.
So, what is at stake in Venezuela’s election?
Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, discusses with guests: Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy Research; Nikolas Kozloff, author of Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics and the Challenge to the U.S.; and Daniel Hellinger, an author and a professor of political science at Webster University.
“I think the elections in Venezuela – although some people have criticised the result, which is Hugo Chavez having won – there’s no doubt in our mind, having monitored very closely the election process, that he won fairly and squarely. In fact of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world. They have a very wonderful voting system where you go in and you touch the screen and you vote the way you want to, and instantly that touch-screen result is recorded, to be transmitted electronically to the central counting headquarters.”
Jimmy Carter, a former US president
WHO IS HENRIQUE CAPRILES AND WHAT DOES HE STAND FOR?
- In 2008, he was elected governor of Miranda, Venezuela’s second most populous state
- Capriles has used his record of opening new schools as governor to highlight his main campaign issue of education
- He is opposed to nationalising more companies but says he will not immediately undo the hundreds of nationalisation of companies and projects done under Chavez’s presidency
- Leaked Democratic Unity coalition documents suggest that Capriles has a neoliberal agenda but he claims the documents are forgeries