Venezuela's populist President Hugo Chávez of the United Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV) was re-elected by 54.42% of the vote, with 90% of the ballots counted as results of the hard-fought race came in the night of Oct. 7. Young opposition candidate Henrique Capriles of the Primero Justicia coalition had 44.97%. Over 80% of Venezuela's 19,119,809 registered voters participated in the election. As the results were announced, Chávez supporters poured into the streets, with a massive and spontaneous party breaking out in front of the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas. (VenezuelAnalysis, Reuters, AVN, Aporrea, Oct. 8)
Capriles, former governor of Miranda state and former mayor of Baruta municipality within the Caracas metropolitan area, tried hard to buck his right-wing image, saying he sought to emulate Brazil's "modern left" model and continue with social programs to benefit Venezuela's poor. When accused by Chávez supporters of being a "fascist" (in a contest characterized by extreme "negative campaigning" even by US standards), he liked to remind voters that his maternal grandparents were Jews who arrived in Caracas after fleeing the Holocaust in Europe during World War II.
But he had a hard time living down the fact that he was imprisoned for four months on charges related to the attempted coup d'état against Chávez in 2002. During the short-lived putsch, he was accused of fomenting a rowdy protest at the Cuban embassy, where some Chávez government figures had taken refuge. Capriles said he was attempting to mediate at the scene, and was acquitted at his trial.
While tilting left on the campaign trail, Capriles showed another face in a Sept. 28 guest opinion he ran in Spain's El País—clearly intended for consumption among the Euro-elite. "No more expropriations, no more confiscations," he pledged in italics, while promising to "guarantee an environment of confidence for national and international investors," "deepen economic relations with the EU" and (again) "guarantee the safety of investors." (Reuters, Oct. 7; Antena3, Oct. 6; Hands Off Venezuela!, Oct. 5; BBC News, Oct. 3)
As in the United States, there was a slew of third-party candidates who were roundly ignored by the media—a total of five, none of whom won 1% of the vote. Challenging Chávez from the left was veteran labor leader Orlando Chirino of the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSL), which is linked to a Trotskyist formation, International Workers Unity-Fourth International (UIT-CI). An organizer in the textile industry for the pro-Chávez National Workers Union (UNT) and an opponent of the anti-Chávez Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), Chirino formed a dissident current within the UNT in 2005, calling for the autonomy of organized labor from the state.
His platform in the presidential race called for 100% state control of the oil, rejecting the current partnerships between state company PDVSA and foreign transnationals; nationalization of other basic industries; a more far-reaching agrarian reform that would "democratize the tenancy of the land"; and a hike in the minimum wage. He is also harshly critical of Chávez's closeness to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Chirino gained prestige when he won the support of Peru's veteran social struggle leader Hugo Blanco. (InfoBAE.com, Panorama.com, Oct. 8; Kaos en la Red, UIT-CI, Oct. 7; Kaos en la Red, Sept. 4)
The Venezuelan anarchist journal El Libertario issued a statement finding little fundamental difference between Chávez and Capriles, especially on the question of control of the nation's rich hydrocarbons:
Energy is the undisputed element in the country's developmental model since 1914 when the first oil well was dug in Venezuela. The false polarization stands naked when one notes the consensus in doubling the production of fossil fuels with the participation of transnational companies. For anarchists, however, the fundamental discussion is not about who controls the industry, whether the national or the foreign bourgeoisie, but whether this reiteration of the extraction model goes against the promotion of an alternative developmental model that would not feed the internal combustion engines of global capitalism and would not damage the environment or the indigenous and peasant communities. Whoever wins on October 7 will represent a victory for financial speculative capitalism, in tune with a world market…
The statement argued that the two candidates merely represented rival wings of Venezuela's ruling class—Capriles favored by the traditional oligarchy and Chávez standing for the new "boli-bourgeoisie" that has benefited from control of the oil wealth under the "Bolivarian Revolution."
El Libertario also protested that "these elections take place in the midst of the worst roll back in history of the autonomy of the Venezuelan social movements," citing figures from the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict indicating a recent big decline in the number of independent protests and demonstrations in the country, which had been rising since 2004.