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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: 60 % pour Chavez, le choix populaire

by Cathy Ceïbe, Caracas special correspondent

Venezuela: 60% for Chavez, the Popular Choice

Translated Friday 29 December 2006

Venezuela. The outgoing president wins the election with a higher score than in the previous election and gives himself the goal of extending the "Bolivar Revolution". The opposition accepts its defeat.

Even the rain had a taste of victory. Under the downpour, the Venezuelans celebrated until late in the night the re-election of Hugo Chavez. Blasting music, a concert of firecrackers and of hooting of car-horns resounded in the centre and west of Caracas where the color red was to be seen everywhere. The famous "Ooh! Aah! Chavez is staying" was on everybody’s lips.

The luckiest were able to crowd near "the balcony of the people" where the head of state pronounced the first speech of his new mandate while thousands more stood outside the Miraflores Palace.

Extending the Bolivarian Revolution

"A new era has begun", assured Hugo Chavez. "We will pursue the deepening and extending of the Bolivarian Revolution towards socialism. This new era is an one of social democracy: a Venezuela whose political, social and economic system is founded on equality, freedom and justice."
In bellowing out to the crowd "Long Live the popular victory, you re-elected yourselves!" Hugo Chavez showed he knew his audience. First elected president in 1998, he was vote in again two years later after adopting a new constitution, then in 2004, in a referendum confirming him in his position with a higher score.

On Sunday he won with more than 60% of the vote. The right-wing opposition, led by Manuel Rosales lost with a creditable score of 38%. Chavez’ success is all the more noteworthy in that he won in every State of the country, including the State of Zulia where, up to the elections, the opposition candidate had been governor.

Hugo Chavez owes his victory to the poorest people of Venezuela, excluded for so many years from participation in the life of their own country. On Sunday 4 December, they showed through their ballots their full agreement with Chavez’ orientations and their impatience for change, as they had done at each of the ten last polls, in just the last eight years. "This country is different", says Fernando Garcia of the Popular Unity of Venezuela. "Citizens have a new awareness: look at this election, it’s a national celebration!".

From 3 o’clock in the morning, the bugles resounded in the shanty-towns and popular neighbourhoods of the capital, announcing to Venezuelans a day placed under the auspices of a "celebration of democracy", according to the catch-words of the National Electoral Council (CNE).

In a family-style atmosphere, people lined up in masses in front of the polling stations. At 10 am, in front of the College Andres-Bello, in the centre of the capital, they were more than 3,000, waiting patiently for their turn to vote, giving a lesson in civics to people in many countries. "I am voting for the future of the country and for the continuation of the policies and social projects that have benefited so many people, including those who did not vote for Chavez", says Darlis, by profession a producer, who would spend three hours in the queue, waiting her turn to vote.

A commitment to to the electorate: justice and social projects

Social projects (health, education, food support, investment in the productive economy), together with a framework encouraging popular intervention as widely as possibly – these are the two great advances of Hugo Chavez’ first mandate. They allowed the majority of the population to get back a certain social normality again, and, for some sectors, to attain it for the first time.

But the challenge of social justice still remains to be dealt with. The voluntarist policy of the government has not yet succeeded in reducing the enormous social deficit, resulting from the structural adjustments programs. The productive system is still barely in its infancy. And Darlis reminded us that the country still suffers of the culture of "clientelism and corruption": two social blights that Hugo Chavez has promised to combat actively during his next mandate.

"They beat us", Manuel Rosales acknowledged, while adding that "the margin was narrower than what the CNE and the Government want us to believe". Propagating the idea that there had been fraud in the electoral process, in spite of an impressive armada of international observers, the opposition nevertheless conceded the results of the polls. This makes it a first, for, since Chavez’ electoral victory in 1998, the opposition had always contested its successive electoral defeats.
The attitude to be adopted by the electoral coalition of Manuel Rosales remains to be seen. Its political spectrum goes from the maoist extreme-left to the old oligarchy, and between these, the shreds of social-democratic and the extreme-right parties.

Starting from very different ideological camps, the opposition finally united around an openly neoliberal project, but its main project was to oust the tenant of the Miraflores Palace. Not having attained this goal, it could well fall apart again on deciding the strategy to adopt, some sectors being still ready to overthrow Hugo Chavez through illegal means, as they have in the past.

Re-election sending a message across the whole continent

The re-election of President Chavez has also a continental resonance. During the last several years, he has spun a cobweb of alliances and of cooperative agreements with his Latin American neighbours, in the name of integration in order to stand up to imperialism and foreign hegemony. Refering to George Bush, Chavez announced: "This is another defeat for Mister Danger, the Devil. Venezuela will not be a North American colony any more, nor a colony of any other country",
Glowing after this victory and in a regional context of nations governed by presidents of the left or center-left, Hugo Chavez now has more elbow-room to advance the policies of sovereignty, complementarity and continental solidarity.

This call is supported by the vitality of the powerful social and indigenous movements of the region, which, although not an alternative as such, still denounce the consequences of neo-liberal policies. Elected a week before, the Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, has joined the "integrationist" strategy and said "We are not facing a time of changes but a change of times", a catch-phrase which many adopting to understand and describe the present Latin American reality.

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