Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Venezuela Election Critical Test For Divided Nation And President Chavez



Thousands of Venezuelans turned out to vote today in a presidential election that pits longtime leader Hugo Chavez against a younger, more moderate rival in Enrique Capriles. Chavez, the fiery left-wing leader, has irritated Washington with his anti-American rhetoric, but he's also won support among many poor Venezuelans for his social programs.

NPR's Juan Forero is in Caracas covering this story. And, Juan, Chavez has been in office, what, 14 years. This election poses the most serious challenge to his rule since then, I understand. Could he lose?

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: Yeah. There's a huge difference between this one and all the others. This is one that Chavez may - just may - lose. Chavez still has the upper hand. He has an incredible bond with his followers, and he has a lot of oil money for his campaign. But Enrique Capriles has really excited a lot of people. He's different from any other opposition candidate. He's charismatic, he's touched a chord. And the country's facing some serious problems. A crime rate that's out of control, public services that are falling apart. So he's hoping that he may just get enough votes to take him over the edge and to beat Chavez.

RAZ: After 14 years, is there any palpable sense of Chavez fatigue in Venezuela?

FORERO: I think there is. And again, we have to go back to the problems in Venezuela - some serious problems. And so you're having people in the barrios, people who in the past supported Chavez, who are now saying they're going to support Capriles. The big question mark here is the number of people who've told pollsters that they are undecided. The question is, will they turn for Capriles once they're in the ballot box casting their ballot?

RAZ: Juan, this election is being closely watched around the world, in part, because of Venezuela's importance when it comes to oil.

FORERO: Oil is vital in Venezuela, and I think people are watching it, in part, because Venezuela now sits on what are the largest certified oil deposits in the world - bigger than Saudi Arabia. And Venezuela's a major supplier to the U.S. Now, Chavez has used that oil to fund social programs and his projects overseas and his campaigns. And so if he were to lose, the new president would likely be much more open to private oil investment in Venezuela. I think Capriles would continue to use oil wells for social programs, though.

RAZ: That's NPR's Juan Forero covering the Venezuelan elections from Caracas. Juan, thanks.

FORERO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.