Chavez Government Pulls Out All Stops For October 7 Vote
Venezuela goes to the polls on October 7 and while Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is supremely confident that he will be elected for another term, he is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to turn back the determined challenge of Henrique Capriles - who is 18 years younger.
The polls, never considered reliable, are contradictory. Most polls show Chavez with a double-digit lead, but even these polls show a large percentage of undecideds. Some polls portray the race as neck-and-neck, with the fear factor constituting an unknown, as some voters are hesitant about identifying with the opposition.
Chavez' government is on a public spending binge, including a crash housing program together with a subsidy for the middle class. He is also holding back on devaluing the Bolivar, the national currency, although it is considerably overvalued. Once the election is over, it is expected to plummet.
The government is also maintaining food price controls, but this is double edged because it is creating food shortages on some staples, as farmers are refusing to sell products at a loss. It is also creating imbalances in personal diets, as Venezuelans stock up on price controlled starches and sugar while avoiding non-controlled fruits and vegetables.
The government has strengthened ties with the army by nominating former officers to serve as gubernatorial candidates.
Nevertheless, the opposition is taking the fight to Chavez, marching through neighborhoods once considered strongholds of the president. The government dispatched riot police to stop the "invasion" of one such neighborhood.
Harassment has gone to ridiculous lengths, including the cap episode, when election officials bashed Capriles for abusing campaign rules. Capriles wore a baseball with a Venezuelan flag, using a national symbol for his campaign, something that Chavez does all the time.
Foreign affairs have entered the picture with Chavez comparing Capriles to Mitt Romney. Today, Chavez backed up his Ecuadorean ally Rafael Correa by threatening devastating consequences should Britain dare storm the Ecuadorean embassy in London where Wikileaks head Julian Assange is holed up.
It is not certain whether the Chavez machine will let the election take its course and respect its results. The Carter Center declined an invitation from Venezuela’s National Electoral Council to send a team to the election because it would not be granted full access.
Last month Chavez was quoted by the official Venezuelan News Agency as saying, "If the rightwing's presidential candidate gets into (office), it would put an end to the social programs promoted during 14 years of government, and as a result the country would enter into a civil war."
With an army personally loyal to Chavez, the odds of such an eventuality are highly unfavorable to the opposition.