Hugo Chavez Frías, whose 14-year rule of Venezuela has been marked by authoritarian tendencies and strong anti-American rhetoric, has won his October 7 election against Henrique Capriles Radonski, former governor of the state of Miranda. The election saw huge voter turnout at over 80% and was the closest yet for Chavez, who won 54% to 44%.
In a campaign marred by voter intimidation, abuse of state resources and powers, and horrific rhetoric and demonization, Capriles was thought to have the best chance of anyone yet to topple the bombastic strongman. The 58-year-old socialist, who had the constitutional ban on term limits removed, has presided over a dramatic reduction in poverty levels in Venezuela and many of his social programs are loved by the Venezuelan people. However, crime has grown rampant under his rule and critics have accused him of consolidating too much power, stifling civil liberties, and crushing the private sector. With state funds at his disposal, the state media under his control, and his ability to intimidate his opponents, the obstacles in front of Capriles were too difficult to overcome.
Capriles, the 40-year-old lawyer who won his first election at age 25 and had not lost one until now, had been optimistic that he and his coalition of opposition parties could unseat the anti-American rabble rouser. The young and charismatic Capriles campaigned door-to-door in nearly every in the country, speaking both to small households and before crowds thousands-strong. He has promised to keep Chavez's more popular programs while also seeking to unshackle Venezuela's private sector, citing Brazil as a good model of governance to follow.
The election results do not bode well for the United States and human rights activists. Chavez's tenure has been marked by trying to advance international socialism with other leftist leaders and seeking to counter the United States at every turn, forming an anti-American coalition with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Russia's Vladimir Putin, Syria's Bashar al-Assad, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, and Cuba's Fidel Castro. Chavez has also taken before the United Nations and other forums repeatedly to demonize both the United States and capitalism.
Relations between the United States and Venezuela reached a low point in September 2008 when Chavez expelled the American ambassador and broke off diplomatic relations with the United States. In June of 2009, Chavez reestablished diplomatic relations with the Obama administration. However, this was followed a few months later with Chavez declaring during a speech in Russia that the United States are the "greatest terrorists in the world" and that "the Yankee Empire will fall" and "disappear from the face of the world ... this century."
The Chavez presidency has also seen tense relations with Mexico, Colombia, and Peru. Meanwhile, he actively pursues stronger relations with the most abusive and autocratic regimes in the world, and helps to prop up human rights abusers including Bashar al-Assad, Omar al-Bashir, Robert Mugabe, and Alexander Lukashenko.
With his power now cemented again for at least another six years, he will continue to completely dismantle Venezuela's private sector and to use the country's tremendous oil supplies in order to advance socialist and anti-American causes worldwide. Relations will the United States will likely continue their downward spiral as Venezuela aligns itself with Syria and Iran, and will be especially tense if Mitt Romney wins the United States election next month. The United States would do well to pay closer attention to its Latin American relations in order to try balance out out Chavez's efforts to turn the region against American interests.
This is a crushing defeat for the Venezuelan opposition. Using the proceeds from state oil profits, Chavez threw everything he had at his disposal to defeat Capriles. However, the opposition can take heart that, even with all of the tremendous resources, intimidation, and demonizing rhetoric that Chavez used, and with 80% of voter turnout, the election was still close. The opposition will now need to regroup and work to block any more attempts by Chavez to consolidate power, while the United States must reformulate its foreign policy in order to deal with this reckless leader for another six years.