The Venezuelan national elections took place last Sunday, October 7, and for the first time in many years reigning political powerhouse Hugo Chavez had a strong political opponent—Henrique Capriles.Nonetheless, he won the elections with 54%.
There has been much controversy around the fact that Hugo Chavez has been in power since 1998. The 58-year-old president introduced a number of policies under the slogan “The XXI century socialism” during his reign. In many aspects, his policies have decreased the number of people living in extreme poverty, but growing violence and crime have been a primary concern for Venezuelan people. Caracas, the capital city, is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Chavez’s government has been adamant about improving health care, yet the President has been treating his own case of cancer in Cuba instead.
Oil revenue has been the controversial source of funding for the Chavez government, as Venezuela is one of the biggest oil producers in the world and additionally plays an enormous role in determining global oil prices. Hugo Chavez has been completely dependent on Venezuela’s oil export revenues, which account for 95% of export earnings, according to the CIA fact book. Many countries in South America benefit from cheap oil prices guaranteed by Chavez and have seen his re-election with positive eyes.
In contrast, Henrique Capriles, a 40-year-old lawyer, made Chavez’s weak points his strength. He was able to achieve 44.97% which is evidence of how even the elections were. He is concerned by growing violence and the decreasing ability of Venezuela to compete in different sectors due to its reliance on oil. Capriles has identified himself as a centrist politician. However, according to the BBC, Chavez’s supporters accused him of trying to bring back the “neoliberal package.” It would not be surprising for Chavez’s side to attempt to highlight the ideological contest between two polarized and extreme ideas. It is in Chavez’s best interest to portray himself as the people’s politician in contrast with the privileged Capriles.
What implications might Canada face in light of the election results? What about the relationship between Venezuelan elections and the ongoing US polls? But most importantly, what do Venezuelans think about the political clash and its consequences? If you are a Trent student that drives to school, you may be wondering if the results of the elections would have an impact on your bill. You may think that the oil produced in Canada would be enough to supply the domestic market, however, according to the CBC, “Canada exports about two-thirds of its oil to the United States—while half of the oil used in Canada is imported from other countries.”
Nonetheless, according to Statistics Canada, about 75% of Canadian crude oil imports come from Norway (25.7%), Algeria (17.9%), United Kingdom (15.7%), Saudi Arabia (8.2%) and Iraq (7.1%). You may then think that you are safe, however, Venezuela is one of the biggest producers of oil and one of the countries with the biggest reserves, and so it plays a relevant role in determining global prices. If you do not drive to school, you should still pay attention. Oil is a basic product in the production of almost anything, so a change in its prices would cause changes in other sectors such as food prices.
Politically, Chavez has been seen as a very controversial leader and his personality has shaped Venezuela’s relationship with the region and the rest of the world.
In terms of the relationship of Venezuela’s elections with the US polls, Chavez has recently communicated that he is interested in improving the relationship between both countries if Obama succeeds. Besides, many would argue that in many aspects both elections have been drawn to a polarized arena in which Chavez looks for comparison with Obama while regarding Capriles as having a resemblance to Romney. In any case, we can see the polarization of political debates, which could turn into undesirable outcomes.
What do Venezuelan students at Trent think about Chavez’s policies and the re-election? Valeria Salluzzo, a first year Business major, stated that the main concern for Venezuelans in the present is the growing rate of crime and violence. She said that the fear of being attacked is omnipresent in the life of Venezuelans. This fear has a psychological effect; many Venezuelans are not able to realize their full potential due to the fear of being attacked or kidnapped. She also argues that during the time that Chavez has been in power, there have always been claims of corruption though they have always gone unproven. Valeria also asserts that poverty has not decreased as much as the Chavez government claims.
Federico Saladino, also a first year Business student, believes that Venezuela needs a change. He recognizes that Chavez has implemented some positive projects such as the misiones or in English, the “missions.” They have almost eradicated illiteracy and have given to impoverished people a number of opportunities. He also asserts that some of these missions have an ideological purpose. In a sense they indoctrinate people to believe that Chavez’s agenda is the best way.
Federico recognizes that 2002 was a turning point in Chavez’s career. It was the year in which his first four years in office culminated and also the year in which a coup d’état was performed against his government. Federico believes that the coup made Chavez self-conscious; he became paranoid that forces were conspiring against his government and so started implementing stronger policies by which to assert his power. Chavez nationalized companies, increased social benefits to secure more voters, and imprisoned some members of the political opposition who openly disputed him under blurry accusations. In economic terms, Federico agrees Chavez has ruined the national steel industry and has made Venezuela even more dependent on oil than before. He said that before Chavez, Venezuelan exports were comprised of about 80% oil and 20% agriculture and today those numbers have changed to 98% and 2% respectively.
Airin Aguilera, a third year Politics and International Development Studies major, expresses that Chavez has “managed to create a divide within the Venezuelan population between chavistas and oligarcas.” In terms of the politics in the region, Airin agrees that “Chavez holds close regional ties with Ecuador and Bolivia since both these countries leaders support a socialist ideal, but ties with a neighbor country such as Colombia have been extremely hindered and cannot be considered strong.” Also she agrees that “Capriles’ campaign was based on how to solve the day-to-day issues the population faces: the inescapable power shortages, the incredibly high crime rate, the inflation rate, the suppression of freedom of speech, etc.”
Many would argue that if Chavez had fulfilled all his promises then the fact that he has been in power since 1998 and would continue for at least another term would not be so terrible. However, in the words of Simón Bolivar, to whom Chavez constantly relates to, during his speech in Angostura in 1819; “…Nothing is more dangerous than to allow power to reside on one citizen for a long time. The people get use to obey him and him to govern them, this being the origin of tyranny and usurpation.”