On Sunday, Nicolas Maduro, Acting President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela since the death of President Hugo Chavez on March 5, was elected for a full term as president. His mandate runs until 2019 and he has promised to continue the socialist policies of his predecessor.
The margin of victory over Henrique Capriles Radonski, candidate of the unified M.U.D. (Table for United Democracy) alliance of the Venezuelan opposition, was much smaller than anticipated by many polls and forecasts. According to election officials, Maduro got about 50.6 percent of the vote, while Capriles garnered 49.07 percent, with a turnout of nearly 79 percent of eligible voters. http://laradiodelsur.com/?p=162769 Voting is not mandatory in Venezuela.
Maduro won in 16 of Venezuela's 24 states, and also in the Capital District surrounding Caracas. Capriles won eight states, including wealthy Miranda, of which he is the governor.
Capriles immediately refused to recognize the results of the election and demanded a complete audit, or vote-by-vote recount. This is normally done with a 54% sample, but Maduro immediately agreed to a 100 % recount. Voting machines in Venezuela are electronic but also provide printed receipts, which will make the audit relatively easy.
Left wing regional governments that have cooperated with Venezuela in projects of mutual aid and regional integration congratulated Maduro on the victory. There is no word yet from the U.S. State Department or the White House.
The election campaign was very intense and confrontational. The Venezuelan government had expressed the fear that right wing elements in the United States might try to disrupt it. Maduro had accused two former Bush administration officials, Roger Noriega and Otto Reich, of plotting to disrupt the election. However, election day incidents were comparatively minor. While Maduro had reminded Venezuelans of the many economic and social achievements of the Chavez administration, Capriles harped on worries about crime and inflation, and added a red-baiting note by claiming that Maduro was a puppet of Cuba.
But what was at stake in the election was immense. Capriles had made vague promises to continue Chavez's progressive social programs, but had also sworn to stop providing subsidized oil to Cuba via the PETROCARIBE program. Support for Capriles from abroad included help from U.S. government agencies and also from right wing Cuban exile circles in Miami and elsewhere.
PETROCARIBE includes 16 other countries besides Venezuela and Cuba. A number of them, such as Haiti and Jamaica, are among the poorest and most economically fragile countries in the hemisphere. The U.S. right has complained that by helping them with subsidized oil, Venezuela is protecting them from the need to permit greater penetration of their economies by international monopoly capital, and to implement austerity programs which would cut back and/or privatize social services and the public sector.
PETROCARIBE is part of a series of "Bolivarian" initiatives to integrate the Latin American countries and reduce their dependence on the United States. At the center of these is the Bolivarian Alliance, or ALBA, consisting of Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Antigua, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Honduras briefly joined, but after President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a coup in June of 2009, withdrew. Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, is now running for President of Honduras and doing well in the polls, so it is not impossible that Honduras re-join ALBA.
However, with Capriles as president and Venezuela out of its current central role as lynchpin of the Bolivarian integrationist movement, it is not clear how ALBA and its many aid and cooperation projects could survive. In spite of his claim to be the "new Chavez" and his demagogic promises to keep Chavez's domestic projects going, he has also indicated that he would stop using his country's legendary oil wealth to support social projects at home and abroad.
The Venezuelan left will now embark on an analysis of why the vote margin for Maduro turned out to be so much lower than anticipated. There have been complaints about inflation and the high crime rate, but a serious analysis cannot be pulled like a rabbit out of a hat.
Photo: Nicolas Maduro was elected for a full-term presidency. Enric Marti/AP