Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Chavez Wins Re-election in Venezuela

With more than 95 percent of votes counted, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has won his bid for re-election, beating opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by an 11 percent margin. According to the official tally of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Chavez took 55.14 percent of the vote, while Capriles won 44.24 percent. As a map of election results compiled by El Universal shows, Chavez led his opponent in all but two states: Merida and Tachira.

The Capriles campaign has conceded Chavez’s victory, and El Universal reports that representatives of his Democratic Unity Coalition (MUD) have acknowledged there is no evidence of election fraud, although they maintain that Chavez’s use of state media in his campaign gave him an unfair advantage. A study conducted by the private Andres Bello Catholic University contradicts this, however, finding that Capriles had received more media coverage on average than Chavez as of September 16th. CNE officials made a similar claim in July. Another factor supporting the legitimacy of Chavez’s victory is the large turnout; CNE records show that more than 80 percent of all eligible citizens took part in the election, setting a new record for voter participation in the country.

Despite Chavez’s clear triumph, the reduced scale of his win is significant. This is Chavez’s fourth electoral challenge since taking office in 1999, and his narrowest margin of victory yet. This suggests mounting dissatisfaction with the president’s administration, which could represent a threat to his mandate in the future.  Reuters claims that Chavez’s comparatively small lead (when compared to previous elections) reflects “growing frustration among Venezuelans at day-to-day problems” like pervasive crime and energy distribution issues.

The tight race also calls the political future of Capriles into question. The opposition candidate -- who has served as a congressman, mayor and governor and until now has never lost a race -- made a name for himself as a poster child of center-left opposition to Chavez, but will his legacy endure? The diverse MUD coalition is fractured along ideological lines, and Capriles may face internal challenges to his leadership now that elections are over. As Venezuela analyst David Smilde of WOLA’s Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog writes, “if Capriles had lost by 5% or less, his dominance in the opposition coalition would have been ensured. But losing by almost 10% means there could well be a struggle for leadership.”

But Venezuelan political analyst Luis Vicente Leon, whose polling firm Datanalisis has proven to be one of the most reliable sources of public opinion data in the country, rejects this. “Nobody in the opposition camp will blame Capriles for the defeat; what they’ll say is that he needs time,” Leon told Spanish news agency EFE.  Leon predicts that although Capriles will have to face some “internal monsters” in the MUD, he will likely emerge as a political heavyweight in the future.

In his victory speech, Chavez called his re-election “a perfect battle,” but while he may have won this battle, the “war” against his opposition isn’t over. Venezuela will hold elections for governors and state legislators on December 16th, and according to the Miami Herald, the seemingly rising dissatisfaction with Chavez could cost his United Socialist Party (PSUV) votes in several states. With opinion polls on the December elections unavailable at the moment, however, this seems like little more than speculation. El Tiempo points out that just the opposite could take place, as Chavez’s victory in opposition-held states like Miranda, Carabobo, Nueva Esparta and Zulia could indicate a surge of support for the PSUV. Either way, the imminent regional elections (and the mayoral elections scheduled for April) mean that both the Chavez government and the opposition will likely remain in some variation of “campaign mode” for the next several months.

News Briefs

  • The Mexican Navy claims that it may have killed one of the most wanted drug traffickers in the country -- Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano -- in a shootout on Sunday in the northern state of Coahuila. El Universal reports that Navy officials announced yesterday that they have “strong indications” that Lazcano was one of two suspects killed in the incident, although they are awaiting DNA tests to be sure. The New York Times claims that the death of Lazcano, a top Zetas commander, would likely amount to the "biggest victory" of outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s administration.
  • Brazil held municipal elections on Sunday, which the AP notes is the country’s first elections under the newly-passed "Clean Record" law, which bars officials convicted of a wide range of crimes from holding public office. Reuters takes a look at the lackluster performance of the ruling Workers’ Party, and analyst James Bosworth lays out five key points on the elections.
  • Speaking in Uruguay on Monday at the 10th Conference of Ministers of Defense of the Americas, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called on Latin American governments not to depend on their militaries for internal security. "To be clear, the use of the military to perform civil law enforcement cannot be a long-term solution," said Panetta.
  • Colombia’s Caracol Radio reports that the Colombian government will receive $1.5 million from the international community to fund reconciliation and re-integration programs in six areas throughout the country, to be implemented concurrently with the upcoming peace talks with FARC rebels in Oslo, Norway.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos resumed the responsibilities of his office on Monday after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer last week, according to the AFP.
  • Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told The Miami Herald on Monday that the Caribbean country is seeking to raise $100 million in revenue in order to fund a “National Education Fund.” The official claimed that the funds would be raised through excise taxes on alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets. 
  • AP reports that the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic have developed a joint plan to eradicate cholera on the island of Hispaniola by 2022.
  • The Guatemalan government is investigating the death of eight indigenous protesters who were reportedly killed by soldiers during a protest last Thursday in the northwestern province of Totonicapan. Siglo21 reports that judicial authorities are looking into the claims of seven soldiers who say they fired into the air and “in self-defense” when called to break up the protest. Inter Press Service notes that the incident has led some to draw comparisons to the country’s bloody 1960-1996 civil war, causing Guatemalan President Otto Perez to call on social movements in the country to avoid appealing to “ghosts of the past.”
  • The Chilean Supreme Court has upheld a $50,000 fine against Starbucks Corporation over its labor practices, after unionized employees claimed they were threatened with layoffs and cuts to their benefits during a strike, La Tercera and Reuters report.
  • Cuban opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez was arrested last Thursday while attempting to cover the trial of Angel Carromero, a Spanish citizen accused of causing the July 22nd car wreck which killed opposition activist Oswaldo Paya.  Sanchez and other opposition figures have expressed doubt over the cause of Paya’s death. According to the Washington Post Sanchez was released after 30 hours in captivity, long enough for her to have missed the trial.