This Sunday, October 7 Venezuelans will go to the polls for a Presidential election of (at least) hemispheric importance. International media reports have consistently favored challenger Henrique Capriles over President Hugo Chavez, and have amplified unsubstantiated accounts and accusations as accepted fact. Despite the ongoing media bias, the reality is that Hugo Chavez remains popular among the people and will win the election on Sunday. As is always the case: consumer beware when it comes to official reports and ‘mainstream’ journalistic accounts.
The Center for Economic Policy Research published a regression analysis of recent polls that shows Capriles with only a 5.7% chance of winning. There will be accusations of fraud come Monday, but Jimmy Carter recently declared Venezuela’s electoral system the best he’s seen. Right now, all signs point to an honest victory for Chavez, despite the overwhelming bias of international news sources.
The United States has thrown considerable support behind Mr. Capriles, who has also received the backing of a newly consolidated opposition in Venezuela. President Chavez has been a vocal critic of the United States’ relations with Latin America. His socialist policies have run counter to the free market fetishism of the north. State ownership of Venezuela’s massive oil reserves has been a consistent issue, and has recently emerged as a favorite media narrative here in the United States. His diplomatic choices have raised much concern in Washington. His rants behind high-profile podiums (like that of the United Nations) have been a perennial spectacle, but his relationship with Iranian President Ahmadinejad has proven particularly irritating, and has prompted a nasty piece of legislation now moving through Congress.
The election in Venezuela will likely determine the future of the ALBA alliance, which has serious implications for Nicaragua. As part of the Fair Trade (as opposed to Free Trade) agreement, direct aid in both oil and cash assists Nicaragua in rolling out expansive social programs for the poor and keeping gasoline prices low. The aid also raises the ire of opponents who believe the transfers are better defined as open corruption. Whatever the judgement, the close partnership between Presidents Ortega and Chavez has been incredibly important to Nicaragua’s fragile-but-growing economy, and a Capriles Presidency would presumably redefine that relationship.
We can hope for a clean election, international recognition, and fair press coverage, but with so much opposition to another Chavez presidency, it seems unlikely to go so smoothly. Experience can overpower hope sometimes, and we must be prepared, following a Chavez victory, to counter: attempts at de-legitimization and the growing chorus of Congressional voices seeking to consolidate control with policies of hemispheric ownership.
To stay up to date and to read a better narrative on the elections than you’ll find elsewhere, check out the CEPR Live Blog during the election on Sunday, the Alliance for Global Justice website, and of course our blog here at the QC.