Venezuelans head to the polls today (Sunday) for a vote that will show if they believe President Hugo Chavez's claim he is still healthy enough to rule.
Chavez, 58, has been battling cancer for nearly two years after a mass was discovered in his abdomen. Three surgeries later and several rounds of radiation and chemotherapy in Havana, Chavez continued campaigning for re-election, assuring Venezuelans he has “fully recovered” and is capable of carrying on.
In the past several years, he tightened ties with Iran, broke ties with Israel and sneered at the United States. Venezuela controls the largest oil reserves outside of the Middle East.
The president's younger challenger, Henrique Capriles Radonski, age 40, has focused on the country's rising economic problems, and the state's use of private enterprise to fund social programs.
Referring to himself as the “David against Goliath,” Capriles has reminded voters has has never lost an election since taking public office – first as lawmaker, then as mayor and later as governor of Miranda state.
Among the problems he says were created under Chavez are social issues such as the country having the highest murder rate in South America, stalled projects, increasing power outages and general inefficiency.
Under Chavez, the state has seized more than 1,000 private companies, using their revenues as a means of supporting government initiatives to deal with the nation's social issues.
Capriles has hammered away on that issue and a host of others, but soberly acknowledged in a news conference that Chavez nevertheless enjoys a wide spectrum of support.
The incumbent, now 14 years in power, could remain until 2019 if he is re-elected -- an issue voters are considering as they go to the polls, wondering if he is healthy enough to hold out for the next seven years. Chavez, who has ruled with an iron fist, said he would respect the results of the polls. Surveys of voters around the country by various polling companies taken last week were inconclusive.