Controversial Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will stay in office for a new six-year term, following a strongly attended election Sunday, but it wasn’t a huge landslide victory.
About 90 percent of the ballots were counted Sunday night, giving Chavez a slim margin of 54.42 percent of the vote against 44.97 percent for his challenger, Henrique Capriles Radonski, who criticized Chavez’ administration for corruption, inefficiencies in the government and government shortcomings.
Chavez admits he needs to do more about crime and the government’s bureaucracy issues, but highlighted his accomplishments in housing, education and health.
Chavez has enjoyed a great deal of influence over Latin America’s governments, irking the U.S., which is Venezuela’s largest trading partner. Meanwhile, Venezuela is the fourth-largest exporter of oil to the United States, but Chavez often rants against the U.S., complaining that it and its allies are “imperialists.”
1. He Didn’t Always Want to Be President
Chavez was born to a poor family in 1954. When he was young, he wanted to be a painter – or a professional baseball player in the United States, like his friend and mentor, Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro.
2. He Really Hasn’t Been Around Forever
It might seem like Chavez has been in the news poking away at the United States forever, but it’s only been since the 1990s. He led a coup in 1992 against then-President Carlos Andres Perez. That failed and Chavez was hauled away to prison, getting famous on his way. The coup and prison sentence launched Chavez’ political career and this will be his third six-year term in office.
3. Poor People See Him as One of Them
Poor voters felt Chavez symbolized a fresh start for them, while seeing former presidents and governments as being more self-serving and corrupt. In addition, he’s expanded spending for health and education through money brought in from oil exports to the United States and other nations.
4. He Blames the United States for a Coup Against Him
In 2002, a group of dissident politicians and troops staged a coup and arrested him, sending him to a military base on a Caribbean island. Two days later though, supporters’ protests and loyal military officers brought him back. He still blames the United States and said he thought he was going to be killed.
5. He’s Threatened to Stop Oil Shipments to the United States
Chavez uses the country’s oil reserves to threaten the United States, including back in 2002 when he blamed then-President George W. Bush of backing the coup against him. However, he’s never blocked the shipments and the United States is the country’s fourth-largest oil customer. Ironically, oil-rich states like Belarus, Iran and Syria also buy some oil from Venezuela.
6. He Can Talk and Talk and Talk
Chavez uses strong language that draws on his culture’s macho behavior, and like Castro is well-known for long, long televised speeches that go on until late in the night. He broke his own record just this year when he spoke for nearly 10 hours in one stretch.
7. He Has Cancer But Has Declared Himself Cured
The Venezuelan leader announced in mid 2011 that he was being treated for cancer, but won’t say what kind. But after he had two malignant tumors removed in Cuba, he’s declared himself completely cured in July, but doctors say at least two years must pass without cancer recurring before a cancer patient is given a clean bill of health.
8. Supports Anti-American World Leaders
The United States may buy a lot of oil from Venezuela, but the two countries are far from being close allies. Chavez often calls the United States corrupt and war-mongering, and supports leaders such as Castro and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. He and Ahmadinejad like to joke about such fun things as having their own atomic bombs. Not funny? Guess you had to be there.
9. The Election Drew Voters Beyond Venezuela’s Borders
Thousands of Venezuelans living abroad lined up to cast their ballots at diplomatic offices, including in New Orleans, to where many traveled by bus from Miami. The Venezuelan embassy in the Florida city is closed after the United States expelled the officer’s top diplomat in January.
10. Venezuelans Accept Chavez’ Faults
One pro-Chavez voter told Fox News that Chavez deserved to win for spreading the nation’s oil wealth to the poor through free medical care, public housing and more. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves.
There is corruption, there’s plenty of bureaucracy, but the people have never had a leader who cared about this country. That’s why the people are going to re-elect Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias.