Chavez beats the odds to fight another round
Cancer and strong opponent fail to see off populist president who vows to stay on path to socialism, despite growing chorus of discontent
Agence France-Presse in Caracas
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez shrugged off cancer and a unified opposition to triumph yet again at the ballot box and claim another six-year mandate to pursue his socialist revolution.
Sunday proved a sterner test than previous elections in Chavez's 14-year tenure, but the bombastic anti-American leftist emerged victorious despite health scares, growing discontent and a strong challenge.
With nearly all the votes counted, Chavez had about 54 per cent, compared with almost 45 per cent for his youthful opponent, former Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles.
Addressing thousands of cheering supporters from the balcony of his Miraflores presidential residence, Chavez sang the national anthem and vowed to be a better president.
"Viva Venezuela! Viva the fatherland!" exulted the leftist leader. "The battle was perfect and the victory was perfect. I want to include everybody, including sectors of the opposition," the 58-year-old Chavez, wearing his trademark red shirt, said in a tacit acceptance of the best electoral showing against him yet.
But brandishing the sword of his 19th century idol, independence hero Simon Bolivar, he pledged to press ahead with a socialist revolution that has antagonised opponents at home and abroad.
"Venezuela will continue its march toward the democratic socialism of the 21st century," he said.
In his victory speech, he alluded to his cancer battle. "Today was a memorable day," he said. "I thank God and ask him [for] life and health to keep serving the Venezuelan people."
Chavez's rival, 40-year-old Capriles, was gracious in defeat, saying: "I accept and respect the decision of the people."
But it was a bitter pill for many to swallow. About 200 Capriles supporters, many in tears and disbelief, massed at campaign headquarters.
"I am disappointed, devastated," said Daniela Torrealba, 33. Chavez's victory means six more years of "uncertainty and stagnation", he said.
Election experts said the electronic voting system was reliable, but suspicions had run high that whoever lost would not concede.
Capriles appeared to put those fears to rest, accepting the result in good faith after an earlier call for calm.
"To know how to win, you have to know how to lose," he said at his campaign headquarters. "For me, what the people say is sacred."
The fate of Chavez, a fierce US critic and the leading voice of Latin America's left, was closely watched by communist ally Cuba, which heavily depends on Venezuela's oil, and other regional partners.
"Viva Venezuela, viva the great fatherland, viva the Bolivarian Revolution!" leftist Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa tweeted, in words echoed by Bolivian leader Evo Morales and Argentina's Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
In Beijing, the foreign ministry vowed to bring relations between the close economic partners to a "new high".
"President Chavez was re-elected and China congratulates him on that, and wishes Venezuela new achievements in the development of the country under the leadership of President Chavez," ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
But in Washington, the head of the House Committee on Foreign Affair, Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, accused Chavez of manipulating the result. "Chavez must not be allowed to continue to export his hate and despotism abroad like his fellow dictators in Iran and Cuba" through human rights oppression and suppression of the press," she said.
PUTTING PRIVATE BUSINESS IN ITS PLACE
President Chavez has nationalised major swathes of the nation's economy and more is expected to come. The main ones so far:
- In 2007, government took a majority stake in four oil projects worth an estimated US$30 billion. Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips filed arbitration claims.
- In 2008, implemented a windfall tax of 50 per cent for prices over US$70 a barrel, and 60 per cent on oil over US$100. Oil reached US$147 that year, but soon slumped.
- In 2009, seized a major gas injection project belonging to Williams Cos.
- In 2010, seized 11 oil rigs from US-based Helmerich & Payne.
- In 2009, nationalised a rice mill of US food giant Cargill.
- In 2010, nationalised Fertinitro, major producers of nitrogen fertiliser, as well as Agroislena, a major local agricultural supply company.
- In 2005, seized unproductive farms and land without proper titles and redistributed millions of acres to boost food production.
- In 2010, took over the mid-sized bank Banco Federal, citing liquidity problems.
- In 2009, paid US$1 billion for Banco de Venezuela, a division of Spanish bank Grupo Santander.
- Closed a dozen small banks since November 2009 for operational irregularities. Brokerages have also been closed and some employees jailed.
- In 2010, ordered the takeover of the local operations of Owens Illinois, the world's largest glass container maker.
- In 2008 took over the cement sector, targeting Switzerland's Holcim, France's Lafarge and Mexico's Cemex SAB de CV.
- In 2009 the mining ministry seized Gold Reserve's Brisas project, which sits on one of Latin America's largest gold veins.
- Paid US$2 billion in 2009 for Argentine-led Ternium's stake in Venezuela's largest steel mill.
- In 2007, the nation's largest telecommunications company, CANTV, was nationalised after the government bought out the US-based Verizon Communications' 28.5 per cent stake for US$572 million.
- In 2007, expropriated the assets of US-based AES Corp in Electricidad de Caracas, the nation's largest private power producer. The government paid AES US$740 million for its 82 per cent stake in the company.
- In 2011, nationalised a local ferry company, Conferry, owned by a wealthy family and that began operating in 1959.