Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez (58), Latin America’s longest serving elected President, is likely to be re-elected for a fourth term on Sunday, as polls placed him comfortably ahead of challenger and “moderate leftist” Henrique Capriles (40), a former State Governor.
If Mr. Chavez wins, he will be in power until 2019, marking 20 continuous years at the helm in Caracas.
Mr. Chavez — who has fought a year-long battle with cancer, survived assassination attempts, coups and electoral challenges — remains one of the hemisphere’s most outspoken voices against American regional hegemony, though his stance has been softer against U.S. President Barack Obama than against his predecessor, George W. Bush.
The outcome of the elections this weekend may have a significant impact on regional political and economic trends as Venezuela is the second-largest oil producer in the world, and is well on track to ousting Saudi Arabia as the largest producer according to studies on the untapped potential of oil blocks in the Orinoco Belt.
While Mr. Chavez has vowed to crank up oil production in a bid to cut down Caracas’ dependence on exports to the U.S., its largest oil buyer, Mr. Capriles has said he would review oil contracts, including those awarded to Chinese and Russian companies, as he believes “They are agreements that are not functioning”.
Mr. Capriles has also reportedly said during this campaign that he would halt subsidised oil shipments to Cuba, Belarus, Nicaragua and Syria, noted The Guardian, adding that critics have labelled him “a stalking horse for U.S. interests”.
Mr. Capriles and other detractors have sought to build a strong case against the long rule of the President, arguing that Mr. Chavez’s significant control of the government and media has been accompanied by repression of dissent, ad hoc nationalisation of oil resources, and a failure to tackle poverty.
While numerous accounts of mismanagement and institutionalised corruption also pervade Mr. Chavez’s regime, it has been suggested that he has, however, not balked at using Venezuela’s oil wealth invest in social programmes for the poor. Hitting back at the Capriles campaign, Mr. Chavez was quoted saying that the opposition represented “the rich and the U.S. government”.