Capriles refuses to concede Venezuela presidential election, demands recount
By Juan Forero, Monday, April 15, 12:52 PM
CARACAS, Venezuela - Nicolas Maduro, the longtime loyal lieutenant of the late President Hugo Chavez, celebrated his apparent narrow victory in the presidential contest Monday, even as opponent Henrique Capriles refused to concede and demanded a recount, citing 3,200 irregularities on the day of the vote.
Instead of the resounding victory that many pollsters predicted for Maduro, who had the sympathy vote after Chavez died last month following a battle with cancer, his government begins on a shaky foundation with a questionable mandate. The margin of victory was just 235,000 votes.
“I want to say to the candidate of the government, the loser today is you,” Capriles said in an emotional press conference called moments after Maduro declared victory at the presidential palace where Chavez had given rousing speeches celebrating election wins.
He said that Maduro had benefitted from a vast state get-out-the vote machinery that included last minute tactics to bring voters to polls – including reopening closed polling stations.
“We are not going to recognize the results until each vote of the Venezuelan people is counted, one by one,” said Capriles, 40, an energetic lawyer and governor of economically important Miranda state. The Venezuelan electoral system is automated, but each vote also produces a paper receipt that can be counted by hand, according to electoral regulations.
One of the rectors of the National Electoral Council, Vicente Diaz, had called for a hand count after the results of the election were released. And in his victory speech, Maduro said, “We’re going to do it.”
“We’re not afraid – let the boxes talk,” said Maduro, 50, referring to the cardboard boxes that hold ballots. “That the truth be told.”
Still, on a tense Monday in which many businesses were shuttered, it remained unclear if a recount would take place.
The government continued with plans for a ceremony on Monday afternoon in which Maduro would be proclaimed the winner, to be followed days later by a swearing in ceremony. And the electoral council – which has five members, the majority of whom are allies of the government – had not said whether a recount would take place.
“These are the irreversible results that the Venezuelan people have decided with this electoral process,” Tibisay Lucena, the head of the council, said late Sunday as she read the results.
According to the council, voters gave Maduro 50.6 percent of the vote to 49.1 for Capriles, with 99 percent of the vote counted. It was unclear, though, if the Venezuelan vote from outside of the country – which analysts say is overwhelmingly opposed to Chavez – were included in that total.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney called Capriles’s request for an audit of votes an “important, prudent, and necessary step” to ensure that Venezuelans have trust in the election results.
The narrow margin was a letdown for many in Chavismo, the radical movement that Chavez founded, with the goal of turning Venezuela into a socialist state.
Capriles just wound up a press conference with the international press corps present, asking for a recount of the vote.
It seems the government wants to rush through the proclamation of Maduro without doing the recount. Capriles has asked publicly that people go to the state level electoral offices asking for a recount saying it's a local responsibility to do so. Should the recount not happen then he is calling for people to go to the national offices of the electoral body (CNE) to ask for the recount. In addition, he has asked people to join a cacerolazo (pot banging) tonight at 8 PM should there e no response from the CNE by then.
This is the closest call I have heard not to civil disobedience but to a public demand for a recount. Will the CNE accept? Will they call out the riot police to stop the people from asking for their rights? This could turn ugly quickly.
Capriles made the point that at least a million votes changed from Chavez in October to Capriles yesterday, proof that even Chavistas have had enough.
Capriles is a pretty good speaker. This isn't over as I feared yesterday. The game of chicken is now in force. Who will blink first?
I believe this is earlier news:
Henrique Capriles Wants Vote Recount in Venezuela Elections
By MANUEL RUEDA (@ruedareport) April 15, 2014 Henrique Capriles, has refused to accept the results of Sunday's presidential election in Venezuela until votes are fully audited.
According to Venezuela's National Electoral Council, Capriles, the opposition candidate, obtained 49 percent of the votes this weekend. That means he lost to government candidate Nicolas Maduro by just 1.5 percentage points.
Capriles claimed there had been hundreds of violations at voting stations across Venezuela on Sunday and asked for a full recount of the votes before he would accept defeat.
Don't let the term "hispanic" blind you. Obama is "un negrito," OIbama is "mi color." On the whole Venezuelans are a lot less racist than Americans but this also allows us to talk freely of color, nationality and other personal traits without being accused of racism. Chavez tried to bring race to the table but that essentially failed, only the very young, who didn't know better, fell for it. It should not come as a surprise that color and nationality are attractors even for people who would not be considered racist.
Second, the vote here was not about socialism vs, capitalism at all. Capriles is best described as a "Lula da Silva" style socialist. Even if he were if he were a capitalism at heart (I have no way of knowing but he certainly has capitalists in his lineage), he would not be able to turn Venezuela on a dime. It is important to remember that CAP was impeached mainly because he tried to bring economic freedoms to Venezuela (eliminate price controls, privatize state enterprises) some of which were not kindly received in great measure because he never prepared people for the transitory pain these changes bring. Raising the price of gas at the pump broke the camel's back and he was fired.
One can live with socialism and populism provided one's basic economic freedoms remain intact, specially the right to own property. One doesn't particularly care if the government is misspending oil income but one sure cares if one's home or business is taken away. Milton Friedman put it very nicely.
A final personal note: it is a rare privilege for an author to be able to evaluate his own work forty years after it first appeared. I appreciate very much having the chance to do so. I am enormously gratified by how well the book has withstood time and how pertinent it remains to today's problems. If there is one major change I would make, it would be to replace the dichotomy of economic freedom and political freedom with the trichotomy of economic freedom, civil freedom and political freedom. After I finished the book, Hong Kong, before it was returned to China, persuaded me that while economic freedom is a necessary condition for civil and political freedom, political freedom, desirable though it may be, is not a necessary condition for economic and civil freedom. Along these lines, the one major defect in the book seems to me an inadequate treatment of the role of political freedom, which under some circumstances promotes economic and civil freedom, and under others, inhibits economic and civil freedom. [emphasis added]
I analyzed the above in light of the Venezuela experience at Software Times Venezuela 2011.
I got home at 3:30 after a 4 and a half hour walk from Los Caobos to Altamira and back. I talked to a lot of people, no queues anywhere. Voting was quick. Capta-huella (finger print analyzer) was used only once not twice as last time. There seemed to be no delaying tactics by the government. Opposition people were very optimistic. I ran into some youth that I would not have thought were anti-Chavez.
A Maduro truck is going by my house this minute, totally illegal.
Let’s see how they steal the vote this time.
Tour of Caracas On Voting Day: No Lines, Some Abuses April 14, 2013
Update 1:47PM: I am told by reliable people that at 1 PM the percentage of voters that had cast their vote was running 10% behind the same number in October.
Sunny with just a hint of haze. It's 11:00 local time and I'm taking off for a walk to my voting station. I'll report any news on my return.
The feeling here is that abstention will decide the vote. If you don't vote the other guy wins. There is the belief among the opposition that Maduro cannot get out the vote. During the week I heard on the Metro a woman with a loud voice say: "lo que viene no sirve" (what is coming is no good). From other things she said it was clear that she was a Chavez devotee. If for her Maduro is as useless as Capriles, why bother voting? On the other side, in my building a lady is organizing transport for senior citizens to get them to vote.
If the vote is close the chavistas will steal it. Let's hope the difference is large enough that they cannot steal it.
There existed a very powerful economic group in Venezuela set up by an immigrant from the Canary Islands. Mendoza started out with a hardware store which he built into a construction supply empire including cement, ceramics, paint (Sherwin Williams), construction materials and even a mortgage bank. In addition the group made paper and paper products, and his daughter set up a foundation to treat bones for young invalids (Ortopédico Infantil), and even an art gallery. Grupo Mendoza was one of the most successful Venezuelan conglomerates ever. The old man never groomed a successor. His managers lived in constant political infighting. I know a lot of this from personal experience. Several of their companies were my clients while I was with IBM and later when I was an independent management consultant. These positions gave me access at the highest levels (excluding Mendoza himself). I got a chance to meet Mendoza personally when a painting sold by my mother in one of their auctions had a bad ending. But that is a story for another day. Today's story is that on his death, the Grupo Mendoza disintegrated quickly because there was no capable successor to carry on.
Chavez picked Maduro to be his vice-president because Maduro was the least threatening person he could find, a veritable lap-dog. I though there would be more infighting among Chavistas for the presidency. Some said that the president of the National Assembly should have been legally the presidential candidate. Diosdado Cabello is not all that popular in Chavista circles and he lost the gubernatorial election for Miranda State to Capriles.
Good Afternoon Carlos, Regarding the marina cats. We use approx. 8 kilos a week of cat food. Omar has been buying two 3 Kilo bags. Dellisa (Black girl feeding the cats) has been supplementing the cat food out of her personal stock (she has 2 cats). Would you please ask Omar to buy 8 kilos of cat food a week. Omar will need to buy 4 kilos twice a week. Regarding Monday (Day after election), we are concerned that there may be businesses closed or problems with traffic. Would you please ask Omar to buy double the cat food on this Friday so that we don't have a problem on Monday. So this Friday we will need 8 kilos (Friday's regular 4 kilos and Monday's -4 kilos). So on Monday- he will not need to buy food. He will buy cat food again- 4 Kilos on Friday.
El País: Capriles lidera la mayor concentración opositora desde 1999
El diario español El País informó en una nota a través de su portal web que el candidato presidencial por la Unidad, Henrique Capriles, lideró este domingo lo que sería la mayor concentración opositora en el país desde el año 1999.
"El evento, llamado “Caracas Heroica”, resultó la mayor concentración organizada desde 1999 por sectores distintos al chavismo" citó el medio.
Desde seis puntos de la capital de Venezuela marcharon cientos de miles de ciudadanos que apoyan la opción electoral de Capriles. La avenida Bolívar, que sirve tradicionalmente de prueba de fuego para cualquier opción electoral en Venezuela, no dio abasto para alojarlos.
El candidato opositor ratificó su poder de convocatoria y, con ello, envió un mensaje creíble de aliento y esperanza para que sus electores no deserten el próximo domingo, día de acudir a las urnas y en la que cada voto contará para decidir un resultado que se anticipa estrecho. Parece indudable que Capriles ha captado un impulso importante justo en la culminación de una campaña de apenas diez días que culminará el próximo jueves.
A diferencia del Capriles contemporizador de la campaña anterior, en esta ocasión el candidato de 40 años de edad apuntó sin remilgos a los puntos flancos de su contrario, el candidato oficialista y presidente encargado, Nicolás Maduro. “Nicolás, tú irás a ganar las elecciones en La Habana, pero yo voy a hacerlo aquí en Venezuela el 14 de abril”, dijo, fustigando al chavismo por su cercanía con el régimen de los hermanos Castro en Cuba. Ofreció la nacionalidad venezolana a todos los servidores cubanos que quieran quedarse a trabajar en Venezuela, pero avisó la expulsión del país de los asesores cubanos que actúen en los cuarteles de la Fuerza Armada venezolana.
Criticó la corrupción rampante entre los funcionarios del gobierno, a quienes llama “los enchufaos”, de los que puso como ejemplo al actual ministro de Petróleo y Minería y presidente de la petrolera estatal Pdvsa, Rafael Ramírez, a quien calificó como “el hombre más rico del país”. Invitó a los seguidores de Chávez a percatarse del contraste entre las condiciones en que ellos viven y el estilo de vida adoptado por la burocracia revolucionaria, y decidir a partir de allí su voto. "Yo no soy la oposición, soy la solución”, buscó reposicionarse Capriles, con un lema que busca sentir más cómodos a los votantes de Chávez que pudieran estar pensando en cambiar de opción esta vez.
Dijo que, así como en octubre tenía claro que los números no le iban a dar en su competencia electoral contra el comandante Chávez –a la postre, vencedor-, supuestamente venía de consultar algunos estudios de seguimiento de las tendencias de opinión favorables. "Vamos a ganar el próximo domingo”, afirmó Capriles, que lllamó a descartar el triunfalismo y a cuidar los votos de la oposición el 14 de abril.
La mayoría de los estudios dados a conocer hasta el momento, cuya cobertura de campo es anterior a la semana que termina, dan ventaja al contrincante de Capriles, el oficialista Maduro.
“Aceptaremos los resultados, sean lo que sean”, aseguró Maduro desde San Fernando de Apure, al suroeste del país, casi al mismo tiempo en que Capriles se apresuraba a hablar en Caracas. El delfín que Chávez escogió públicamente antes de morir y que ejerce de presidente encargado exigió el mismo compromiso de Capriles, ante la sospecha de que la oposición prepara una agenda oculta de desconocimiento del triunfo oficialista.
Maduro, que el jueves cerrará su campaña en Caracas, evitó durante su acto proselitista dos de las ideas principales que, sin embargo, habían vertebrado su discurso el día anterior. Una de ellas insiste en que el voto por Maduro es un asunto de lealtad al comandante fallecido. El candidato no tuvo empacho en afirmar el sábado, durante un discurso en una zona de población mayoritariamente amerindia, que votar contra maduro era votar contra sí mismos.
Asimismo, Maduro abandonó la denuncia que el sábado en la noche hizo desde Ciudad Guayana, según la cual mercenarios contratados por sectores contrarrevolucionarios de Miami (Florida, Estados Unidos) y de “la derecha salvadoreña” habrían entrado en territorio venezolano para atentar contra su vida.
The winners are the guys selling T-shirts, caps, flags and banners, they must have sold hundreds of thousands by the number of people I saw wearing them.
Last night the political music went on until quite late. Today it started at around 11 in the morning but they quit by 6 PM. What a relief. Hearing the same broken record over and over again is truly a PITA!
Around noon I left the house to walk to the produce market (open Tuesday to Sunday). I saw a fair number of Chavistas in "getting out the vote" mode but only a few were activists. I saw about six or eight Caprilistas (you recognize them by the T-shirts and caps) walking toward an opposition march. Instead of going home by the same route, I decided to take the Metro back. Where i got off I was met by a river if Caprilistas! It was the closest I have been to a political march in my 74 years of existence.
Seeing so many opposition people marching changed my mood for the better. The Chavistas have been very good at capturing their political base. Chavez was what we call a chameleon, changing his coloring to fit the mood. Over the past three or four years they dropped the public "like Cuba" stance which never did sit well with most Venezuelan. Instead they created an image of a loving Chavez - a "Corazón de mi pueblo" image. I was quite surprised when a few week ago our concierge declared for Chavez (a change of heart?) saying that the Chavistas were protecting the working classes. The concierge has been with us for over 20 years and I don't ever recall having any serious labor related problem with her. Still, the Chavistas won her over.
There can be no doubt that the Chavistas have a solid following and politically they have outmaneuvered the opposition by a wide margin. Seeing so many opposition marching today tells me that we are truly divided, maybe close to a 50-50 split. What worries me more is the economic situation, specially the exchange controls.
Today has been a god damn circus! The government must have pressed thousands of CDs with political music and they keep playing it over and over again. Getting the election over is going to be a big relief. The central theme is that Chavez lives and will never die, "Viva Chavez." They seem to have only corpses to adore: Bolivar, Che, Chavez. People voting for these corpses, do they think corpses can govern? Madness!
No comment necessary but it does make life more difficult...
Wall Street Journal: Venezuela Raids Local Brokerage of Oppenheimer By Kejal Vyas
CARACAS — Venezuelan authorities late Thursday raided the home and office of what they say is a local representative of Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., the brokerage subsidiary of Oppenheimer Holdings Inc., OPY -1.19% for allegedly violating foreign-exchange regulations.
Venezuela's national intelligence agency, or Sebin, seized documents from Caracas brokerage Brisbane, Mendes de Leon, Pettus & Asociados that it says point to alleged buying and selling of dollars, according to a statement Friday from the Attorney General's office. Such activity would be prohibited in the South American country unless done through the government. The statement identified the company as a local representative of Oppenheimer & Co.
New York-based Oppenheimer did not respond to calls seeking comment.
The move comes as interim President Nicolas Maduro increases his calls for combating currency speculation in Venezuela, where a shortage of hard currency filtering through government channels has led to a spike in dollar demand on the black market. In recent speeches, Mr. Maduro has talked of cracking down on the illegal trade, which he says is run by "bourgeois" opponents engaged in economic sabotage against the ruling socialist party.
Authorities also "seized dollars, euros and firearms" from the house of brokerage owner John Gayle Pettus, the statement said. Calls to the office of Brisbane, Mendes de Leon, Pettus & Asociados and to employees went unanswered Friday, and they couldn't be reached for comment.
The Venezuelan government said it began a probe into the local brokerage on March 23 after it was notified of alleged "irregularities" at the company. The Attorney General's office said it found evidence allegedly linked to dollar exchanges at the site.
An Information Ministry statement earlier Friday indicated that Mr. Pettus, a Venezuelan citizen, had been detained, but it wasn't immediately clear if he was still being held or facing any charges.
Mr. Pettus couldn't be reached for comment. Spokesmen at the Information Ministry, as well as the Interior and Justice Ministry, said they had no further comment.
The U.S. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority lists Mr. Pettus as a broker registered with Oppenheimer & Co. Inc.'s Venezuela office since 1993. A 2012 edition of Standard & Poor's directory shows Oppenheimer as the only U.S. broker listed with a Venezuelan affiliate.
Russ Dallen, a managing partner at Caracas Capital Markets, who was a partner at Mr. Pettus' brokerage until 2007, said he received calls from employees informing him of the raid Thursday afternoon.
Many economists blame the leftist regime's currency controls, implemented by the late president Hugo Chavez in 2003 to prevent capital flight, for the lack of dollars in the economy which has led to a sharp depreciation of the bolivar on the black market. The government has set a fixed exchange rate of 6.3 Venezuela bolivar per dollar, but dollars are traded at nearly 23 bolivar on the black market.
A scarcity of dollars has also led to widespread shortages of food and consumer goods, as companies in this import-heavy economy complain they lack access to the dollars they need to purchase products from abroad.
In 2010, Venezuela's government cracked down on a large parallel currency market and imprisoned several brokerage directors for allegedly violating currency controls. Four former directors of Econoinvest Casa de Bolsa CA, which was once Venezuela's biggest brokerage firm, were released in December after spending more than two years in prison. The directors have said they never violated exchange laws. Their trial is continuing.
You have to wonder if humans are all that rational after all. If they were, religions would be all dead.
Tales From Maduro’s Mind: Chavez’ Little Bird Apparition April 2, 2013
You can’t make this corny, stupid, silly stuff up. Interim President Maduro says that this morning he went to a small chapel made out of wood (Where? Made out of wood. Really Nicolas? He was also alone, praying, sure Nicolas, we believe you) and a little bird came in and chirped at him (Maduro repeats the sounds and everything) and he whistled back the same pretty chirp. And then comes the jump into the mystical, it was Chavez, he felt the spirit, blessing the campaign, yada yada yada…
Really, hard to make this stuff up. Hard to even think of saying such things.
Chigüire Bipolar gives up making jokes, says it is really hard to make things up after Maduro saying this.
Capriles Accepts Challenge Against Nicolas In Venezuela’s Election March 11, 2013
A forceful Henrique Capriles went on TV last night and accepted the challenge to run against Venezuela’s interim President Nicolas Maduro, in a speech that quickly proved what I suggested on Saturday: Politics is back in Venezuela now that Chavez is absent.
Capriles was extraordinary in a very strong speech, which was carefully thought out. At all times, Capriles was very respectful of Hugo Chavez and fairly dismissive of Nicolas Maduro, whom he referred to as Nicolas or “Nicolas, chico” all the time. In one of his best lines, Capriles said, “Nicolas is not Chavez and you all know it, even Chavez complained about those that surrounded him and those are the people that want to govern you”
He noted that the Government and Nicolas had been lying to the people and he was very inclusive, saying he was not running for himself or to get power, but because he wanted Venezuela to do better. He offered a Government for all.
On the lying, he suggested that Chavez had been dead a while, asking how come all of the t-shirt and flags were ready for the funeral and support for Nicolas.
He blasted the Minister of Defense, not only for his illegal support of Nicola’s candidacy, but also he told him he was a disgrace, finishing next to last in his military class.
He had very unkind words for the Head of the Electoral Board, who wore a revolutionary arm band at Chavez’ funeral an asked her for respect, not for him, but for the Venezuelans who are not Chavistas and for the law.
By being forceful and confrontational, Capriles was not only re-energizing the voters, was clearly choosing a different campaign strategy than the one against Chavez. He knew then he had to be respectful of Chavez and he is ever more respectful now, but now he is completely critical of Nicolas and his cohorts. Capriles also seems to recognize that politics changed in Venezuela when Hugo Chavez passed away on March 5th.
And that this is the case was proven immediately, when Nicolas could not wait and had to respond to Capriles within the hour, something Chavez would have never done. Nicolas came and tried to blast Capriles, but his speech was too forced. And in a clear sign that Chavismo is worried about participation in the upcoming election, Nicolas announced that on the same day there will be a referendum to change the Constitution so that Chavez can be buried in the Panteon Nacional immediately. This was clearly a ploy to have the Chavista rank and file more involved in the upcoming election, but Capriles and the opposition can simply bypass the issue by backing the referendum and saying that if the people want it, it should be done.
But more importantly, Nicolas’ speech demonstrated what a weak candidate and poor politician he is. The campaign is too short for Capriles to overcome the abuse of power of Chavismo and the sympathy vote, but it seems as if Capriles had given the whole thing a lot of thought. And in the opening moments of the campaign, score one for the challenger.
Venezuela's Capriles joins race, tussles with Chavez heir By Andrew Cawthorne and Marianna Parraga | Reuters – 43 mins ago
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's opposition leader vowed on Sunday to fight late Hugo Chavez's preferred successor for the presidency next month and the pair quickly locked horns in an angry war of words.
Henrique Capriles, a 40-year-old state governor, will face election favorite and acting President Nicolas Maduro. The pair must register their candidacies for the April 14 vote on Monday.
The election will decide whether Chavez's self-styled socialist and nationalist revolution will live on in the country with the world's largest proven oil reserves.
"I am going to fight," Capriles said at a news conference. "Nicolas, I am not going to give you a free pass. You will have to beat me with votes."
Former Vice President Maduro, 50, a husky one-time bus driver and union leader turned politician who echoes Chavez's anti-imperialist rhetoric, is expected to win comfortably, according to two recent polls.
Maduro pushed for a snap election to cash in on a wave of empathy triggered by Chavez's death Tuesday at age 58 after a two-year battle with cancer. He was sworn in as acting president on Friday to the fury of Capriles.
"You have used the body of the president for political campaigning," Capriles said of Maduro on Saturday, triggering an angry rebuke.
Maduro accused Capriles of sowing hate.
"You wretched loser!" Maduro said of Capriles in a televised speech. "You have shown your true face - that of a fascist."
Capriles, the centrist Miranda state governor who often wears a baseball cap and tennis shoes, lost to Chavez in October. But he won 44 percent of the vote - the strongest showing by the opposition against Chavez.
Capriles has accused the government and Supreme Court of fraud for letting Maduro campaign without stepping down.
Opposition supporters were trying to raise their spirits despite the odds.
"There's no reason to think that the opposition is condemned to defeat," Teodoro Petkoff, an anti-government newspaper editor, said on his Sunday talk show.
MADURO RAILS AGAINST CAPRILES, IMPERIALISM
Maduro has vowed to carry on where Chavez left off and ratify his policy platform. He acknowledged he has big shoes to fill.
"I am not Chavez - speaking strictly in terms of the intelligence, charisma, historical force, leadership capacity and spiritual grandeur of our comandante," he told a crowd on Saturday.
Chavez was immensely popular among Venezuela's poor for funneling vast oil wealth into social programs and handouts.
The heavy government spending and currency devaluations have contributed to annual inflation of more than 20 percent, hurting consumers.
"Maduro's success will depend on if he can fix the economy and its distortions," said a former high-level official in the Chavez government who declined to be named. "If he does that, he could emerge as a strong leader instead of one who is an heir."
Maduro's first official meeting on Saturday was with officials from China, whom Chavez courted to provide an alternative to investment that traditionally came from the United States.
He has adopted his mentor's touch for the theatrical, accusing imperialists, often a Chavez euphemism for the United States, of killing the charismatic but divisive leader by infecting him with cancer.
Emotional tributes were paid at a religious service at the military academy housing Chavez's casket on Sunday. Several million people have visited his coffin so far and his remains will be moved on Friday to a museum where a tomb is being built to show his embalmed corpse.
He may be moved later to another site next to the remains of his hero: 19th century liberator Simon Bolivar.
Chavez scared investors with nationalizations and railed against the wealthy. In heavily polarized Venezuela some well-to-do citizens toasted his death with champagne.
If elected, Capriles says he would copy Brazil's "modern left" model of economic and social policies.
Given the state resources at Maduro's disposal and the limited time for campaigning, Capriles faces an uphill battle.
"If the opposition runs, they'll lose. If they don't run, they lose even more!" tweeted Andres Izarra, who served as information minister under Chavez.
The opposition rank-and-file is heavily demoralized after losing last year's presidential race and getting hammered in gubernatorial elections in December, stoking internal party divisions.
"There's no doubt that it's an uphill race for Capriles," local political analyst Luis Vicente Leon said. "The trouble is that given the race is so close to Chavez's death, emotions get inflamed and the candidate probably continues to be Chavez rather than Maduro."
(With reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez, Simon Gardner, Terry Wade, Pablo Garibian, Deisy Buitrago, Mario Naranjo and Enrique Andres Pretel; Editing by Stacey Joyce and Cynthia Osterman)
Si hubiera respeto por el marco legal hubieran habido elecciones a los treinta dias de no presentarse el presidete electo a su inauguración. La corte suprema decidió que Chávez se podia presentar a su inauguración cuando le viniera en gana y postpuso (efectivamente canceló) la elección presidencial. No habiendo presidente, no hay vice presidente pero Maduro sigue actuando como si lo fuera. El presidente encargado debería ser el presidete de la asamblea pero en los actos de ayer no se le vió a Diosdado Cabello por ningún lado supuestamente porque estaba enterrando a su madre quien habia muerto dos días antes.
De la oposición no se oye ni un murmullo.
Los militares juran defender la constitución pero llevan décadas saqueando al país y les pareció bién estar bajo la bota cubana (patria, socialism o muerte). Supuestamente hay 60.000 cubanos en Venezuela. Es posible que le dí trabajo a uno hace unos meses. No se le sentia acento. Fué él que me dijo ser cubano.
Anoche hubo un silencio extraño, casi sepulclar, en Caracas. Primero unos niños gritaron la noticia de la muerte de Chávez, fué así que me enteré de la novedad, pero pronto fueron callados. El silencio solo fué interrumpido por una bands de motorizados chavista gritando "¡Viva Chavez!" Será en otro mundo, si lo hay.
Ahora algunos hablan de elecciones en treinta dias. Mi mayor temor es que no haya tal elección. Desde hace años no hay legalidad en el país, solo la percepción de legalidad. Las instituciones existen pero obedecen (u obedecían) los mandatos y deseos del comandante. A falta del comandante hay una pugna de poder entre los chavista. No es por la patria sino por la danza de los millardos del petroleo, del tráfico de drogas e influencias y de todas la prebendas de estar en el poder. Estamos de regreso al caudillismo del siglo 19.
Las esperanzas de la oposición son:
- que hayan elecciones ya que ninguno de los candidatos chavistas tiene ni la sombra del carisma del comandante
- que el chavismo sin Chávez se desmorone en una pugna interena por el poder
- que los militares rectifiquen (hay que ser bien iluso para creer en esos apatridas)
Hay que recordar que en America Latina, cuando hay democracia, lo hay con la anuencia de los militares. Sabiendo esto, Rómulo Betancourt instauró "el bozal de arepa" hace mas de 50 años pero el bozal dejó de tener efecto con el criminal golpista fracasado Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias.
Nota casi cómica. Después de 15 años ininterrumpidos de insultos por parte de Chávez ahora Maduro le pide respeto a la oposición. ¡Que vaya a freir monos!
Reapareció Diosdado Cabello deificando a Chávez: "nunca lo olvadaremos." Hace unos años visité la tumba de un primo en la cual la inscripción decia lo mismo "nunca te olvadaremos." Es posible que así fuera pero la tumba tenía años de descuido. Cuidado con lo que escribes en piedra.
I can't rejoice about anyone being dead as glad as I am that Chavez is gone. It is eerily quiet in Caracas. When the announcement was first made I heard a couple of kids shouting the news, that's how I found out. But the kids were quickly silenced.
Back in 2004 I said that Chavez would die of natural causes while still in office. I got that right.
Now the fun begins, can Chavismo survive without the charismatic leader? It's not a question of politics but one of immense wealth from oil, from drugs, from kickbacks.
I was out and about the streets of Caracas for good part of the day yesterday. If I hadn't read the news I would never have known that thing were that bad around here. There is a huge disconnect between the political activists and the ordinary people who just want to go about living their lives.
That is not to say things are "normal" [whatever normal might mean]. Recently there was a shortage of some of the drugs I use on regular basis, metformin, the one controlling my type two diabetes, being a critical one. That does not mean I had run out of the drug. We know that with price controls shortages are the norm, not the exception, so we stockpile critical items: drugs, powdered milk, olive oil, rice, toilette paper. Some people stockpile frozen meat in industrial size freezers...
I could not get the slow release version, instead I was pleasantly surprise that the pharmacy bill came to only BsF 80.00 (US$3.65 at the parallel rate) for 50 days worth of metformin, 60 days worth of another drug and a jar of Tums (75 tablets). A closer look at the bill revealed:
Metformin (50 days): BsF.8.74 (US$0.40) -- about the price of 4 bananas Allopurinol (60 days): BsF.13.52 (US$0.61) -- about the price of 3 heads of garlic Tums (75 tablets): BsF.58.18 (US$2.65) -- probably more in line with US prices
I said above "pleasantly surprised" because the controlled release version of Metformin, which is not price regulated, would have cost closer to BsF. 200.00 (US$9.00), 23 times the price of the regulated drug.
This tinkering with prices kills any economy which is why socialist countries tend to suffer shortages. With us this is not a new Chavista phenomenon, it has been the norm ever since we had price controls.
Powdered milk, usually absent from grocery stores, is a case in point. Our cows don't seem to make enough milk and we import the powdered milk, not that you would know it from the tins which never mention any country other than Venezuela. The other day I saw a pile of 100 pound sacks of powdered milk from New Zealand in a delivery truck. I asked where they were delivering the milk. They replied that it was charcoal. It seems the sacks get recycled, good show! But the powdered milk is imported, nonetheless.
BTW, Miguel, the author of the following article, is safely in Miami. He used to work for the government a long time ago as head of one of our better research labs. He quit because politics was getting in the way but that was a long time before Chavez. I mention it only to show that the Chavez show is not all that different from our previous "demodesgracia" (demo disgrace), our pseudo democracy. It's mostly that there is a new set on "ins" and the old "ins" who are now "outs" are mad as hell.
Students Chain Themselves In Front Of Cuban Embassy In Caracas And Other Stories by moctavio
Today there were protests by Venezuelan students in front of the Cuban Embassy in Caracas. The National Guard decided to repress and seven students were jailed (later freed). Some students went to where the others were being held, while twenty six of them chained themselves in front of the Cuban Embassy, where there is a sot of Mexican stand off at this time.
Meanwhile, the Government no longer knows how to explain the devaluation. Maduro says that it is a speculative attack by the private sector, in a country with draconian foreign exchange controls. Jaua says that the "people" were not benefiting from the "cheap" dollars. Giordani says that they have screwed up all along, that SITME was "genetically perverted", that Venezuelans have a "dollarized nymphomania" and he knows all about the tricks to get CADIVI dollars illegal but has done nothing about it. Merentes gives Globovision a rambling non-sensical interview. (As a former scientist, I loved (cringed?) at his statement that scientists never rule out anything. Really Nelson?)
Meanwhile, Jaua cancels his visit to Peru to go to Cuba in the middle of rumors that Chavez is back in intensive care, while Marquina (@Marquina04) says "La razón de la falla respiratoria es sin duda las metástasis a nivel pulmonar e invasión del drenaje linfático" (The reason for the respiratory failure is without any doubt the metastasis at the lung level and invasion of the lymphatic fluid"
A normal day elsewhere in Venezuela. Historian Napoleon Pisani, a fellow blogger, was killed in a robbery at a museum, while a former national water polo champion was killed in a robbery.
Something seems to be reaching boiling point in Caracas.
I have yet to see these Bloomberg news confirmed in the local press.
Last June the parallel exchange rate was around 9 per dollar. Today it is 20 per dollar. See: El Liberal Venezolano
Venezuela Devalues Bolivar by 32% Amid Shortage of Dollars
By Charlie Devereux & Jose Orozco - Feb 8, 2013 5:04 PM GMT-0430
Venezuela devalued its currency for the fifth time in nine years as ailing President Hugo Chavez seeks to narrow a widening fiscal gap and reduce a shortage of dollars in the economy.
The government will weaken the exchange rate by 32 percent to 6.3 bolivars per dollar, Finance Minister Jorge Giordani told reporters today in Caracas. Companies with operations in Venezuela, including Colgate-Palmolive Co., Avon Products Inc. and MercadoLibre Inc., fell on the announcement.
A spending spree that almost tripled the fiscal deficit last year helped Chavez, 58, win a third six-term term. The devaluation can help narrow the budget deficit by increasing the amount of bolivars the government receives from oil exports. Chavez ordered the move from Cuba, where he is recovering from a fourth cancer surgery, Giordani said.
“Any tackling of the massive economic distortions, even if far more is required, is positively viewed by markets,” Kathryn Rooney Vera, a strategist at Bulltick Capital Markets, said in an interview from Miami. “We expected more and more is indeed needed to correct fiscal imbalances and adjust economic distortions, but this is something and there may be more to come.”
The yield on Venezuela’s dollar bonds maturing in 2027 fell 10 basis points, or 0.10 percentage points, to 8.70 percent at 4:43 p.m. local time. Venezuelan bonds have returned 39 percent over the past year, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBIG index.
While a weaker currency may fuel annual inflation of 22 percent, it may ease shortages of goods ranging from toilet paper to cars.
In the black market, the bolivar is trading at 18.4 per dollar, according to Lechuga Verde, a website that tracks the rate. Venezuelans use the unregulated credit market because the central bank doesn’t supply enough dollars at the official rates to meet demand.
Venezuela’s fiscal gap widened to 11 percent of gross domestic product last year from 4 percent in 2011, according to Moody’s Investors Service.
The government will keep the currency at 4.3 per dollar for certain imports that were ordered before Jan. 15, he said. The new exchange rate will begin operating Feb. 13, central bank President Nelson Merentes said.
The central bank-administered currency market known as Sitme that traded at 5.3 bolivars per dollar will be eliminated, Merentes said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Charlie Devereux in Caracas at email@example.com; Jose Orozco in Caracas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nota: el dolar paralelo se duplicó en los últimos thres meses. El mercado siempre habla mas verdades que cualquier gobierno.
China está renuente a firmar nuevo financiamiento El Nacional, 31 de enero de 2013
Las necesidades de financiamiento del Gobierno de Venezuela para 2013 alcanzan los 65 millardos de dólares El fondo propuesto por el Gobierno de Venezuela implicaba un desembolso por 15 millardos de dólares
BLANCA VERA AZAF 31 DE ENERO 2013 - 12:01 AM
El Gobierno de China está negado a firmar un nuevo acuerdo de financiamiento por petróleo con Venezuela. Argumenta que no se ha cumplido con lo estipulado en los contratos del Fondo Gran Volumen I y II y con el Fondo Pesado o Binacional. Una fuente confirmó que la solicitud por parte del Banco de Desarrollo Económico y Social (Bandes) para la firma de un nuevo acuerdo por 15 millardos de dólares fue rechazada por China.
Se pudo conocer que se han hecho observaciones sobre cómo el Gobierno de Venezuela ha manejado los recursos aprobados para proyectos de infraestructura y el retraso que se ha registrado en las obras que debían iniciarse y finalizarse en fechas establecidas.
De acuerdo con la fuente, otros de los reclamos que ha hecho el Gobierno de China tiene que ver con inconvenientes técnicos relacionados con el tipo de petróleo y derivados que Venezuela está enviando como pago a los préstamos.
La ministra para el Comercio, Edmée Betancourt, es quien ha estado al frente de los acuerdos con China e hizo la solicitud para firmar un nuevo fondo distinto a los dos ya existentes por 15 millardos de dólares en noviembre del año pasado.
Asimismo, ministro de Petróleo y Minería, Rafael Ramírez, estuvo haciendo gestiones en diciembre pasado durante la última reunión bilateral llevada a cabo en Beijing para que se realizaran los últimos desembolsos del acuerdo firmado por Petróleos de Venezuela con el Banco de Desarrollo Chino por un poco más de 500 millones de dólares. Sin embargo, tampoco tuvo éxito.
Por cubrir. Las necesidades de financiamiento del Gobierno de Venezuela para 2013 alcanzan los 65 millardos de dólares, según cifras de Bank of America. En caso de que no se produzca la devaluación del bolívar el déficit fiscal podría llegar al cierre del año a 20 puntos del producto interno bruto (cantidad de bienes y servicios producidos por una nación a lo largo de 12 meses), de acuerdo con cálculos de Barclays Capital.
El financiamiento chino se hace cada vez más importante para el Gobierno tomando en cuenta que está negado a pedir ayuda al Fondo Monetario Internacional o al Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, afirmó una fuente.
Aunque se han tomado medidas puntuales como la reforma de la Ley de Contribución Especial sobre Precios Extraordinarios y Exorbitantes –conocida como ley de ganancia súbita- la cual aumentará en 10 millones de dólares diarios la cantidad de dólares que pueda liquidar Cadivi, según datos de Ecoanalitica, aún quedan necesidades de financiamiento por cubrir.
Envíos de crudo. En noviembre de 2012, el ministro de Petróleo y Minería, Rafael Ramírez, aseguró que el Fondo Conjunto Chino Venezolano sumaba 41,5 millardos de dólares en ventas.
Explicó que los envíos de crudo y sus derivados a China totalizan actualmente 640.000 barriles. De este total 273.000 barriles son destinados al pago de los préstamos del Fondo Chino, cuyo monto asciende a 36 millardos de dólares. Según Ramírez, Venezuela ha cancelado 17,9 millardos de dólares. Esto significa –según el ministro- que la nación tiene en estos fondos excedentes por 23,6 millardos de dólares.
Me llegó por email y está escrito en un "argot" venezolano que espero que compendan. Olvídense de "reformas económicas." Ya no queda casi nada por robar. La plaga de langosta bolibana se lo llevó todo. Pero como dije antes, el pueblo está apático, solo se dedica a sobrevivir. Los tontos útiles siguen chupando de la teta que se seca.
NO SON CUENTOS CHINOS, SE AVECINA EL DEFAULT
Levanto la mano porque fuimos uno de los que advertimos, desde finales del 2do. Semestre 2012, que para Mayo/Junio en Venezuela podríamos seriamente entrar en Capitulo de Default (EL PAÍS ESTARÍA FUNDIDO, y no tendría con qué pagar sus deudas)…. FÍJATE QUE HOY El Nacional nos trae como titular: “China rechazó otro acuerdo de financiamiento por petróleo"….LA COSA VA POR AQUÍ, evadiendo los estrictos controles de salud administrativa exigidos por el FMI y al BID, los Boligarcas del Régimen abrieron el Boquete en China para conseguir prestamos e hipotecar el Futuro del país sin tastas exigencias….AHORA LOS CHINOS se negaron a seguir prestando “liales” por petróleo a futuro, porque Venezuela no cumplió (Mal manejo de recurso y no cumplimiento de plazos) con lo estipulado en los contratos del Fondo Gran Volumen I y II y con el Fondo Pesado o Binacional de ese Negro futuro...CON EL QLO EN 2 MANOS “Voz de Trueno” Ramírez quería que los Chinos le dieran un sencillito de $15.000 millones, pero los chinos le dijeron NO...ENTONCES Ramírez salió esmollejao a vender el oro del BCV…EN SU DESESPERO, “Voz de Trueno” Ramírez le enseño "la firma" de Toy Curao a los Chinos: "Miren, vean, aquí está la firma"... Y Los Chinos dijeron no es la "firma", es la forma como ustedes se mamaron los reales!….. EPALE VOZ DE TRUENO, escúchame: No soy yo, quien dice que PDVSA no cumplió con entregas, por no producir crudo, lo dicen los Chinos, que ponen los "Liales"….. LAS COSAS BIEN CLARAS 1) Los chinos dicen (y no es la 1era Vez) que las obras que debió construir PDVSA, no se hicieron... la corrupción en casas se lo llevó todo; 2) Lo otro que dicen los chinos es que la Calidad del poco petróleo que envían es pésima...3) Lo más grave del asunto, ni siquiera es que los Chinos no quieren otro acuerdo, sino que el resto de la última parte del acuerdo ($500 millones) no quisieron entregarlo...Y EL QUESO Q HABIA EN LA MESA.. Estos Barbarazos no dejaron para nadie... FÍJATE QUE la última "Raspá de Olla" fue en ocasión de la Prolongada Ausencia de Toy Curao, que no es falta según TSJ…..CIELO TENEBROSO, según Bank of América: para finales de 2013, se espera que el déficit fiscal del régimen “Rojo-Rojito”podría ser de uno 20 puntos del PIB...si es que llega a fin de año, digo yo….BARBAS EN REMOJO, con razón hay tanto militar y funcionarios sacando a sus muchachos de clases en este mes de enero y mandándolos pa' fuera, bien lejos... se pone feo el asunto…ES APRECIABLE QUE sin dólares no hay vehículos ni repuestos, no hay computadoras ni celulares, no hay equipos médicos en hospitales, no hay cupo CADIVI y Ojo! "sin tetas no hay paraíso"…..LA EXPERIENCIA DE OTRO Barbaro es el camino que llevamos en la Venezuela de Toy Curao. FÍJATE: Al fisco de Zimbabwe (África), después del saqueo y larga tiranía de Mugabe, sólo le quedan, lee Bien: $217…!!.. Sí, así como lees, solo medio cupo CADIVI de internet. …PREGUNTARAS ¿Cuál fue la fórmula de Mugabe, para dejar a Zimbabwe en el esterero? Sencillo: Expropiaciones, expoliación, corrupción, tiranía prolongada y full odio…TE PREGUNTO, después de describir que No son cuentos chinos lo del desmadre de la Robolucion, ¿A caso, crees que hay algo parecido aquí en Venezuela?.. ..VAE VICTIS!!
February 4 is the anniversary of the failed Chavista coup that left over 100 people dead. Yesterday, total apathy!
I was out running errands yesterday, February 4. Nobody gives a damn. Not about the coup, not about the revolution, not about Chavez, not about the opposition. Everyone is busy surviving. The revolutionary speeches blare from radios, I comment out loud that these were assassins. People smile and go about their business. The grocery store owner has time enough to say: “They will do anything to hang on to power” and turns to take care of the next customer.
Nothing To Celebrate In Venezuela, Twenty One and Fourteen Years Later
Ambassador Charles Shapiro hit the bulls-eye when he said (in reply to Gustavo Coronel) that it must be the Venezuelans who solve their political issues. I agree entirely but people are not really interested in ideology, the interest is in making a living. As we say "redondear la arepa." The way to weaken the government is by dropping the price of oil but this hurts the people as much as it hurts the regime.
The Council of the Americas hosted a roundtable discussion on Venezuela's choices as it faces a potential political transition.
Experts on the country discussed the uncertainty created by the potential transition, the prospects for change, the implications for Venezuela’s economy and how the U.S. and other countries will respond.
Participants included: •Charles Shapiro, President, Institute of the Americas, former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela •Russell Dallen, President and Editor-in-Chief, Latin American Herald Tribune, Caracas •Christopher Sabatini, Editor-in-Chief, Americas Quarterly and Senior Director of Policy, Americas Society/Council of the Americas •Eric Farnsworth, Vice President, Americas Society/Council of the Americas
CARACAS -- De cuclillas en una entrada a las afueras del palacio presidencial rosado y rojo, Alexis León dijo que tenía fe en que su inquilino, el enfermo presidente Hugo Chávez, regrese pronto a casa.
Funcionarios gubernamentales insisten en que Chávez está alerta y habla con su familia mientras se recupera de una operación de cáncer en Cuba. Pero en Caracas —donde no se le ha visto ni escuchado en más de un mes— hay poco que hacer aparte de preocuparse y esperar.
“Si fuera un miembro de mi familia, también impediría que hiciera apariciones públicas hasta que estuviera recuperado por completo —cualquier cosa por su salud”, dijo León, de 51 años, un profesor de teatro. “El regresará; sólo tenemos que darle tiempo”.
Pero muchos se preocupan de cuánto tiempo puede funcionar la cuarta mayor economía de América Latina con su líder ausente e incomunicado.
El lunes, la coalición de partidos opositores, conocida por sus siglas MUD, dio a conocer cartas enviadas a la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA) y al grupo comercial Mercosur pidiéndoles que evalúen lo que ellos consideran una violación constitucional que podría “afectar la estabilidad de la región”. La coalición también pidió presentar su caso ante el consejo permanente de la OEA.
A pesar de la frágil salud de Chávez, la Corte Suprema insiste en que él está aún a cargo. Eso significa que el vicepresidente Nicolás Maduro no tiene el poder de designar embajadores o miembros del gabinete, ni de firmar tratados internacionales, dijeron expertos legales.
“¿Por cuánto tiempo tenemos que esperar por el presidente?” preguntó Miriam Berdugo de Montilla, una legisladora de oposición. “¿Quién puede decirnos dónde está el presidente? ¿En qué condición está? ¿Dónde lo tienen? Nadie sabe realmente”.
El gobierno dice que Chávez se encuentra en La Habana recibiendo tratamiento de un equipo de expertos para una forma de cáncer no dada a conocer contra la que combate al menos desde junio del 2011. El domingo, funcionarios dijeron que estaba alerta y reaccionado “favorablemente” al tratamiento de una infección respiratoria grave que ha afectado su recuperación.
Pero hay razones para la preocupación. La semana pasada, Chávez supuestamente envió una carta al congreso solicitando permiso para no estar en su toma de poder del 10 de enero. Pero la carta estaba firmada por Maduro, no por el presidente. Y cuando decenas de miles de seguidores de Chávez se reunieron en el centro de Caracas para marcar su nuevo término de seis años, no hubo mensajes grabados desde La Habana, como muchos esperaban.
“Imaginen al presidente Barack Obama sin una foto o una prueba de vida durante 35 días”, dijo el lunes Russ Dallen, un inversionista y periodista con sede en Caracas, a un panel en la ciudad de Washington. “Es un escenario en verdad sorprendente”.
Para complicar las cosas, la Corte Suprema ha desestimado las solicitudes de enviar un equipo médico a La Habana, y ningún médico u observador independiente ha comentado sobre su situación. Cuando un diplomático brasileño lo visitó este mes anteriormente, calificó de “grave” el estado del presidente, pero no dio más detalles. Los presidentes Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, de Argentina; y Evo Morales, de Bolivia, han sido también visitantes recientes, pero se han mantenido callados sobre su condición.
Resulta sospechoso el hecho de que sólo las personas que hablan sobre la salud del presidente tienen intereses creados en ello, dijo Nelson Madrid, un maestro de música de 59 años de edad que ha perdido confianza en los informes del gobierno.
“Necesitamos oír de nuestro presidente”, manifestó Madrid. “Realmente no sé qué va a pasar, tenemos que esperar que no sea algo malo”.
Si Chávez muriera o renunciara, esto provocaría nuevas elecciones dentro de 30 días. Antes de viajar a Cuba, el presidente pidió a la nación que respaldara al vicepresidente Maduro si él se viera afectado por la enfermedad. Esto enfrentaría a Maduro —ministro de Relaciones Exteriores por un largo tiempo— contra Henrique Capriles, gobernador de Miranda, quien perdió en octubre contra Chávez.
Pero ninguno de los seguidores del presidente ha reconocido abiertamente un futuro después de Chávez. Y la decisión de la Corte Suprema presume no sólo que él está a cargo, sino que regresará para jurar.
La oposición alega que la ausencia de Chávez del día de su juramento requiere que se declare temporalmente ausente al mandatario y que el presidente de la Asamblea Nacional, Diosdado Cabello, otro leal a Chávez, asuma el cargo hasta que regrese el presidente.
“La parte más problemática es que [la Corte Suprema] ha declarado, increíblemente, que el presidente Chávez no está ausente y está en control total de sus funciones, incluso cuando ha estado fuera del país por más de un mes y ni siquiera está en condición de firmar un comunicado oficial”, escribió MUD al Mercosur, el influyente grupo comercial al que se unió Venezuela en julio.
Por su parte, la administración ha calificado la decisión de la Corte Suprema como una victoria para la democracia en una nación que apoyó ampliamente a Chávez en la contienda presidencial del 7 de octubre.
La decisión ha dejado con poco espacio para las maniobras legales a la oposición, que ha convocado a una marcha pacífica para el 23 de enero en defensa de la constitución.
El gobierno parece preparado para un enfrentamiento. Poco después de que se anunciara la protesta, Maduro hizo un llamado a las fuerzas de seguridad a que estuvieran vigilantes y enfrentaran los intentos de la oposición de instigar a la violencia.
“Ellos tratan de manchar nuestras políticas y las victorias que esta nación conquista todos los días”, dijo Maduro de la protesta.
Por el momento, el debate constitucional ha tenido pocas repercusiones internacionales. Más de 20 delegaciones internacionales se encontraban la semana pasada en Venezuela para marcar el nuevo término de seis años de Chávez. Y la Organización de Estados Americanos y el Departamento de Estado de EEUU, entre otros, han dicho que respetan el fallo de la Corte Suprema.
Pero mientras más tiempo esté ausente el presidente, menos sostenible será la situación, dijo Gregorio Gaterol, un legislador de oposición.
“Este fallo de la Corte Suprema es una camisa de fuerza para la oposición”, agregó. “Pero con el tiempo, ella también se va a ver amarrada con esta decisión”.
CARACAS -- Huddled in a doorway outside the pink and red presidential palace, Alexis León said he has faith that its tenant, ailing President Hugo Chávez, will be home soon.
Government officials insist that Chávez is alert and speaking to his family as he recovers from cancer surgery in Cuba. But in Caracas — where he hasn’t been seen or heard from in more than a month — there’s little to do but worry and wait.
“If he was my family member, I would also keep him from making any public appearances until he was completely recovered — anything for his health,” said León, 51, a theater professor. “He’ll be back; we just have to give him time.”
But many wonder how long Latin America’s fourth-largest economy can function with its leader in absentia and incommunicado.
On Monday, the coalition of opposition parties, known by its Spanish acronym MUD, released letters sent to the Organization of American States and the Mercosur trade group asking them to weigh in on what they see as a violation of the constitution that could “affect the stability of the region.” The coalition also asked to make its case before the permanent council of the OAS.
Despite Chávez’s frail health, the Supreme Court insists he is still in charge. That means that Vice President Nicolás Maduro does not have the power to appoint ambassadors or cabinet members or sign international treaties, legal experts said.
“How long do we have to wait for the president?” asked Miriam Berdugo de Montilla, an opposition lawmaker. “Who can tell us where the president is? What condition is he in? Where are they keeping him? Nobody really knows.”
The government says Chávez is in Havana being treated by an international team of experts for an undisclosed form of cancer that he’s been battling since at least June 2011. On Sunday, officials said he was alert and reacting “favorably” to treatment for a severe respiratory infection that has plagued his recovery.
But there are reasons for concern. Last week, Chávez purportedly sent a letter to congress asking for permission to miss his Jan. 10 inauguration. But the letter was signed by Maduro, not the president. And when tens of thousands of Chávez followers crammed downtown Caracas to mark his new six-year term, there were no recorded messages from Havana, as many were hoping.
“Imagine President Barack Obama not being touch, not even a picture or proof of life for 35 days,” Russ Dallen, a Caracas-based investor and journalist told a panel in Washington, D.C. on Monday. “It’s an amazing, amazing scenario.”
To complicate matters, the Supreme Court has turned down requests to send a medical team to Havana, and no doctors or independent observers have commented on his status. When a Brazilian diplomat visited earlier this month he called the president’s condition “grave,” but provided no details. Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Bolivia’s Evo Morales have also been recent visitors, but have remained mum about his condition.
The fact that the only people talking about the president’s health have a vested interest is suspicious, said Nelson Madrid, a 59-year-old music teacher who has lost confidence in the government reports.
“We need to hear from our president,” he said. “I really don’t know what’s going to happen we just have to hope it’s not bad.”
If Chávez were to die or step down, it should trigger new elections within 30 days. Before he traveled to Cuba, the president asked the nation to rally behind Vice President Maduro if he were sidelined by the illness. That would likely pit Maduro — a long time foreign minister — against Miranda Gov. Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chávez in October.
But none of the president’s followers have openly acknowledged life after Chávez. And the Supreme Court ruling presumes not only that he’s in charge but will return to be sworn in.
The opposition argues that Chávez’s absence on inauguration day required the president to be declared temporarily absent and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, also another Chávez loyalist, to take charge until the president returns.
“The most troublesome part is that the [Supreme Court] has, astonishingly, declared President Chávez is not absent and is in full control of his functions even though he’s been out of the country for more than a month and not even in condition to sign an official communiqué,” the MUD wrote to Mercosur, the influential trade group, which Venezuela joined in July.
For its part, the administration has called the Supreme Court decision a victory for democracy in a nation that overwhelmingly supported Chávez in the Oct. 7 presidential race.
The ruling has left the opposition with little room for legal maneuvering, but they have called for a peaceful march on Jan. 23 in defense of the constitution.
The government seems prepared for a showdown. Shortly after the protest was announced, Maduro called on security forces to be vigilant and shutdown opposition attempts to instigate violence.
“They’re trying to stain our politics and the victories this nation is conquering every day,” Maduro said of the protest.
For the moment, the constitutional debate has caused few international ripples. More than 20 international delegations were in Venezuela last week to mark Chávez’s new six-year term. And the Organization of American States and the U.S. State Department, among others, have said they respect the high court’s ruling.
But the longer the president is absent, the less tenable the situation will be, said Gregorio Gaterol, an opposition lawmaker.
“This Supreme Court sentence is a straightjacket for the opposition,” he said. “But over time, they’re going to get tied up in this decision also.”
Good morning from Washington, D.C. I have attached our latest BBO Report on Venezuela in which we take a look at the Venezuela Supreme Court's decision last week to interpret the Constitution to allow President Hugo Chavez to take the oath of office at a "later time and place" by being sworn in before the Supreme Court using the innovative new legal theory they introduced of "continuity."
I was fascinated to see that the Venezuelan Supreme Court reached all the way back to the one example in US history where a US Vice President was sworn in on foreign soil -- late and in Cuba, at that!
In 1852, Franklin Pierce had won the presidency and was sworn in on March 4, 1853, but his Vice President, Alabama Senator William R. King had developed tuberculosis (TB) and was in Cuba for the winter to get the warm air on his lungs to ease his symptoms. TB was usually a death sentence in those days and he missed the presidential inauguration and in sympathy, his friends in Congress passed a law allowing him to be sworn in as Vice President from Cuba so that he might die with that title, and on March 24, 1853, 20 days late and on foreign soil, he took the oath of office. Most ominously for Chavez, King returned to the US and died a few weeks later on April 18,1953. Interestingly -- and confirming FDR Vice President John Nance Garner's comment that "the vice presidency is not worth a pitcher of warm spit" -- Pierce never filled the Vice President position for the rest of his term.
Of course, inaugurations took place later in the calendar in the 1800s, but Washington is all spiffed up and getting ready for Barack Obama's second inauguration on January 20. In the spirit, I finally got to see Steven Spielberg's/Daniel Day Lewis's "Lincoln" at the movies. Brilliant movie and you can see why it has 12 Academy Award nominations -- and why it is the first time Hollywood has voted for a Republican President in a long time!
I am in D.C. because I, along with former US Ambassador to Venezuela Charles Shapiro, former Senior Advisor to the White House Special Envoy for the Americas Eric Farnsworth, and Chris Sabatini, Editor-in-Chief of the Americas Quarterly, will be speaking about Venezuela and our predictions and prognosis for what will happen there at the Carnegie Endowment today at 11 here in Washington, D.C. You can watch the session on C-Span on your TV or online here: http://www.as-coa.org/events/venezuelas-uncertain-future
As always, please don't hesitate to let me know if we can be of any assistance.
Chavismo Takes The Path Of Maximum Illegallity In Venezuela
January 8, 2013
Chavismo and the Venezuelan National Assembly have today decided to follow the path of maximum illegality when they announced that Hugo Chávez will not show up on Thursday and will be sworn in a some time in the future by the Venezuela Supreme Court. At the same time, the National Assembly approved that President Chávez can take an unlimited leave of absence, something that it is unconstitutional and illegal.
The whole show is a bizarre and unnecessary twist to the problem of what to do with Chávez’ inability to be sworn in due to his illness, as this is simply a break with the laws and the Constitution that is likely to have repercussions beyond what Chavismo apparently believes.
The whole sequence of events is bizarre to say the least:
-It all starts by a letter by Vice-President Maduro, the person with the largest conflict of interest in all this, as his tenure as Vice-President clearly ends on Jan. 10th. with Chávez’ six year term. Moreover, there is not even the pretense of having Chávez sign the letter. If Chávez is doing better and will be able to be sworn in sometime soon, why didn’t he even sign the letter? Maduro clearly has no legal right to make this request for the Venezuelan President.
-As if this was not enough the National Assembly approves a spurious resolution, giving Chávez an unlimited leave and without even following what the law requires for a President, which is a medical committee giving an opinion and the Assembly approving the recommendation of such a committee. Only the Supreme Court could approve that you can extend to Art. 233 of the Constitution a President-elect, but under no circumstance could the Court or the Assembly grant Chávez an unlimited leave.
-In the case of a temporal absence, the Vice-President would become President, but since Chávez has not been sworn in, it is absolutely unconstitutional for current Vice-President Nicolás Maduro to extend his Vice-Presidency into the next term. Since Chávez has not been sworn in yet, and it Maduro says he will not be for a while, then the only legal solution is for the President of the National Assembly to become President until the situation is resolved with the approval of the Venezuelan Supreme Court (Which may still happen before Jan. 10th.)
What is scary about this whole situation is that if it does extend into Jan. 10th. Chavismo (And not Chávez! We do not know his opinion!) will be taking the country on a path of piling up one illegality on top of the other. This could take years to unravel, as someone has to run the country, but all decisions after Jan. 10th. will lack any legality and could be challenged some day. This could have dire consequences for the stability of the country medium and long term. Moreover, once someone decides to bypass the Constitution, all sorts of demons are unleashed among all of those aspiring for power.
I wonder if those demons are what is already causing these bizarre situation.
The question remains why this path has been chosen. Either Chavismo does not want or does not trust Diosdado Cabello as President or Chavismo (and the Cubans) have decided to turn the country into a Dictatorship, the Constitution be damned. The question is in the former case is why would Diosdado follow Maduro on this?
And as one analyst asked me yesterday: Will these guys even hold elections if Chávez dies?
You have to start wondering…
For the last few days, I have believed that a Constitutional crisis would be avoided when push came to shove. Right now, I can only sit here and hope that the Supreme Court will say something tomorrow, before Venezuela is taken into an unknown path packed with instability.
After Jan. 10th. anyone that sides with Chavismo and this foolishness will be on the side of illegality and and a coup. Remarkably, not one person on the Chavismo side has yet raised a voice of concern.
They have less than two days to speak up or side with those breaking with Venezuela’s Constitution.
It is not often that we get to discuss quantum mechanics in relation to Venezuela, although my colleague Miguel does have a PhD from Harvard in physics, so over the years sitting on a trading desk next to each other you get to speak about almost everything as the days roll on. (By the way, did you know that Venezuela had an experimental nuclear reactor -- the first in Latin America -- fifty years ago? That came to light in one of our riffs back in 2008 when Venezuela President Hugo Chavez was promising to build a nuclear reactor with Russia in oil-rich Zulia state. http://www.laht.com/article.asp?CategoryId=10717&ArticleId=320618 )
But I could have never foreseen that we would be able to allude to Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger in this missive. Yet, Chavez has become Schrodinger's cat. In that theoretical experiment (for you cat-lovers out there, no actual cats were injured), a cat is in a sealed box and may be alive or dead. Or both, in theoretical quantum mechanics. Likewise, we don't know if Chavez is alive or dead. Some reports say Chavez is basically in a coma or being kept alive on life support. The government keeps saying that his situation is 'delicate' and that he will return 'sooner rather than later.' But the fact is that we have neither seen nor heard from Chavez in almost four weeks since December 10 and we don't know what his real situation is. Nobody is letting us see inside the box in Cuba and everyone (including Chavez) is lying or obfuscating the truth. And yet, people are trying to continue to rule in his name, even bending the Constitution to allow them to stay in power after the Constitutional term ends. And worse, because Chavismo controls the legislature, the courts and all the other governing institutions of the country, there is no place for the Opposition to go to resolve it. As Opposition Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma put it "Our President has been kidnapped" and we don't even have a "proof of life." This could get messy.
The chavista Venezuelan Supreme Court is not an independent body. The court is populated with Chavez pupets and it acts like a rubber stamp. Now Maduro wants to use the rubber stamp to delay the swearing in of the president which it totally illegal.
I never doubted the dirty tricks were coming, the only unknown was the form they would take.
Chavez swearing-in can be delayed: Venezuelan VP
By Andrew Cawthorne and Deisy Buitrago | Reuters – 9 hrs ago
CARACAS (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez's formal swearing-in for a new six-year term scheduled for January 10 can be postponed if he is unable to attend due to his battle to recover from cancer surgery, Venezuela's vice president said on Friday.
Nicolas Maduro's comments were the clearest indication yet that the Venezuelan government is preparing to delay the swearing-in while avoiding naming a replacement for Chavez or calling a new election in the South American OPEC nation.
In power since 1999, the 58-year-old socialist leader has not been seen in public for more than three weeks. Allies say he is in delicate condition after a fourth operation in two years for an undisclosed form of cancer in his pelvic area.
The political opposition argues that Chavez's presence on January 10 in Cuba - where there are rumors he may be dying - is tantamount to the president's stepping down.
But Maduro, waving a copy of the constitution during an interview with state TV, said there was no problem if Chavez was sworn in at a later date by the nation's top court.
"The interpretation being given is that the 2013-2019 constitutional period starts on January 10. In the case of President Chavez, he is a re-elected president and continues in his functions," he said.
"The formality of his swearing-in can be resolved in the Supreme Court at the time the court deems appropriate in coordination with the head of state."
In the increasing "Kremlinology"-style analysis of Venezuela's extraordinary political situation, that could be interpreted in different ways: that Maduro and other allies trust Chavez will recover eventually, or that they are buying time to cement succession plans before going into an election.
Despite his serious medical condition, there was no reason to declare Chavez's "complete absence" from office, Maduro said. Such a declaration would trigger a new vote within 30 days, according to Venezuela's charter.
Chavez was conscious and fighting to recover, said Maduro, who traveled to Havana to see his boss this week.
"We will have the Commander well again," he said.
Maduro, 50, whom Chavez named as his preferred successor should he be forced to leave office, said Venezuela's opposition had no right to go against the will of the people as expressed in the October 7 vote to re-elect the president.
"The president right now is president ... Don't mess with the people. Respect democracy."
Despite insisting Chavez remains president and there is hope for recovery, the government has acknowledged the gravity of his condition, saying he is having trouble breathing due to a "severe" respiratory infection.
Social networks are abuzz with rumors he is on life support or facing uncontrollable metastasis of his cancer.
Chavez's abrupt exit from the political scene would be a huge shock for Venezuela. His oil-financed socialism has made him a hero to the poor, while critics call him a dictator seeking to impose Cuban-style communism on Venezuelans.
Should Chavez leave office, a new election is likely to pitch former bus driver and union activist Maduro against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state.
Capriles lost to Chavez in the October presidential election, but won an impressive 44 percent of the vote. Though past polls have shown him to be more popular than all of Chavez's allies, the equation is now different given Maduro has received the president's personal blessing - a factor likely to fire up Chavez's fanatical supporters.
His condition is being watched closely by Latin American allies that have benefited from his help, as well as investors attracted by Venezuela's lucrative and widely traded debt.
"The odds are growing that the country will soon undergo a possibly tumultuous transition," the U.S.-based think tank Stratfor said this week.
(Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga; editing by Christopher Wilson)
"When an elected President becomes permanently unavailable to serve prior to his inauguration, a new election … shall be held within 30 consecutive days.”
That is the crux of the matter. If Chavez can be sworn in Maduro becomes president. If not, chavistas have a good chance of losing the presidency. We fear that chavismo will go to any trickery to get Chavez sworn in, dead or alive.
Hugo Chávez, en coma inducido EMILI J. BLASCO / CORRESPONSAL EN WASHINGTON Día 02/01/2013 - 03.46h
Fuentes consultadas por ABC aseguraron el lunes que se había programado una próxima desconexión
Hugo Chávez ha entrado en los últimos días en un coma inducido, con las constantes vitales muy debilitadas, mantenidas gracias a la asistencia artificial procurada el hospital de La Habana en el que fue internado. Fuentes consultadas por ABC aseguraron el lunes que se había programado una próxima desconexión de la asistencia artificial que prorroga la vida del presidente venezolano. Esa desconexión, con resultado previsible de fallecimiento, podía producirse en cualquier momento.
Las autoridades venezolanas aseguran que Chávez sigue con vida, aunque parecen estar preparando al país para la noticia de la muerte del líder bolivariano. Su yerno y ministro de Ciencia y Tecnología, Jorge Arreaza, dijo que Chávez había llegado al final del año «tranquilo y estable». Por su parte, el vicepresidente venezolano, Nicolás Maduro, indicó el domingo que su situación era «delicada».
Desde hace varios días, el estado de salud de Chávezse considera crítico, con sus funciones vitales asistidas artificialmente a raíz de la operación a la que fue sometido el 11 de diciembre debido al avanzado cáncer que padece y de las complicaciones del postoperatorio provadas por una infección.
Con fiebre constante, pérdida de conciencia y sin responder a los antibóticos, el presidente venezolano llegó a final de año en cuidados intensivos, sin ingerir nada sólido desde que fue operado hace tres semanas, con «ano contra natura» y alimentación intravenosa debido a la extracción de casi medio metro de intestino, de acuerdo con fuentes de inteligencia con acceso a su equipo médico. También sus funciones respiratorias se encontraban asistidas artificialmente tras la traqueotomía a la que fue sometido por una infección que motivó la retención de líquido en los pulmones. Ese cuadro se completa con insuficiencia renal.
En la operación llevada a cabo el día 11 para extirparle cuatro cultivos cancerígenos de pelvis e intestino, al presidente venezolano le fueron extraídos 43,4 centímetros de intestino delgado. Una biopsia llevada a cabo durante la cirugía también detectó células cancerígenas en las paredes internas del intestino y en la vejiga.
La operación, realizada por un equipo médico llegado expresamente de Rusia, con asistencia de médicos cubanos, también comprobó que la metástasis en hueso y médula espinal seguía progresando a paso constante. En condiciones normales esto hubiera requerido probablemente un próximo trasplante de médula, pero su estado ya tan deterioradono ha permitido más actuaciones.
Spanish Newspaper Says Hugo Chávez Is In A Coma And On Life Support Matthew Boesler | Jan. 2, 2013, 10:58 AM | 3,177 | 8
Sources told Spanish newspaper ABC that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is in an induced coma and being kept alive on life support in a Cuban hospital following emergency cancer surgery on December 10.
UPI has more details from the report:
Sources told ABC Chávez was breathing through mechanical ventilation and being fed intravenously and rectally, and Russian doctors treating him said his kidneys were failing.
The doctors were considering ending the life support, the newspaper said.
However, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro denied the report, saying that Chávez was in a conscious state.
Chávez recently named Maduro as his chosen successor should he be unable to serve his third term as president following his re-election in October. While Chávez has battled cancer for a while now, never has he taken the step of naming a successor, making the announcement significant.
Chávez is well known for his socialist government and economic policies. Investors have bid up both Venezuelan stocks and bonds this year (Venezuela was the world's best performing stock market in 2012) on hopes that the end of Chávez's rule in Venezuela will mean an end to those socialist policies and usher in a more business-friendly government.
Today, yields on Venezuelan government bonds are falling toward multi-year lows. The move reverses a climb upward in recent weeks after the Venezuelan government downplayed fears that Chávez's December 10 surgery didn't go well.
The yield on the Venezuelan 15-year government bond has fallen 40 basis points today.
Torino Capital CEO Jorge Piedrahita told Bloomberg News, "There is a clear correlation between the price of Venezuela’s debt and Chávez's health."
Today's report from ABC cites anonymous sources inside the hospital. Although it's been refuted by Maduro, it appears as if it's been enough to re-ignite investor speculation.
Yesterday I was struck by the headline: "The Post Chavez Era Is Here." In our highly regulated news industry, papers are not allowed to print what the government does not want people to see. If this headline was allowed it must mean that the government wants the people to get ready for a transition. Maduro, the bus driver turned vice president, has said that Chavez's condition was delicate. There are only six days to go to Chavez's inauguration. There has been talk about inaugurating Chavez on his sick bed in Havana, a truly preposterous idea but inline with Chavista opportunism.
This arrived by email:
Venezuela: Chavez In Coma - Report January 2, 2013 | 0049 GMT
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's health continued to deteriorate Jan. 1, Colombia's Caracol Radio reported, citing a report from Spanish newspaper ABC. The report said Chavez is in a medically induced coma with weak vitals and that a biopsy during a Dec. 11 operation to extract 43.1 centimeters of his small intestine that left him unable to ingest solid food revealed cancerous cells in his intestinal wall and bladder. The report also said Chavez's cancer had spread to his spinal cord, the treatment of which requires a bone marrow transplant that he is unable to undergo because of respiratory complications.
Correct me if I'm wrong. Crafty Dog was originally a New Yorker. Crafty Dog took up martial arts because he saw violence on the streets against helpless people due to poor law enforcement. Generalizing that New Yorkers are violent criminals is just as wrong as saying that Latin Americans are anti-American.
When STRAFOR sticks to geopolitics they do fine. When they stray to mass psychology they are talking a bunch of bull.
Talking about trading partners, when America outsources to China, is it a surprise that Latin American also trades more with China? Does that have to do with politics or with economics? Recently I have been seeing Chinese made cars and busses in Caracas. If a Chery is cheaper than a Chevy, what would you buy, all else being equal?
This "anti-Americanism" idea is bogus. A lot of foreign visitors come to our marina. Many use it as a base to explore Venezuela. Then they write about their experiences and publish it on the web. I have collected their "cruising logs." Read for yourselves what visitors on the ground, not in some Washington think tank, have to say about it. I stopped collecting stories in 2008 because crime, unchecked by local law enforcement, has been on the rise thanks to Chavez's mismanagement and piss poor government. Some of you might recall how Rudy Giuliani cleaned up NYC. Were New Yorkers really different before and after Giuliani? Were 8 million New Yorkers crooks or was it just poor law enforcement prior to Giuliani?
Hard core anti Americanism in Latin America is bogus. We love MacDonalds, Levi's, iPads, Disneyland, rap and all that jazz. What the writer is missing is that a charismatic leader can sway the masses. Pit Bush II against Chavez and Bush is bush league.
Latin America does have a propensity for populism and clientelism which keeps left of center parties in power most of the time but that is not anti Americanism. Out slogan is not "American go home, leave us alone" it's
I wonder what to think of exit polls that showed Capriles leading narrowly. I would think exit polls understate his support. I didn't notice if we sent Jimmy Carter again to 'certify' the vote.
It should not be surprising because the vote is very polarized. Where I voted you can be sure it was 80% for Capriles. In other places surely it's 80% Chavez. In the US Republicans and Democrats might live side by side. Here adecos and copeyanos (people voting for the former two major parties) would also live side by side but not so for chavistas and anti-chavistas although the chavistas who have enriched themselves are moving out of the barrios and into the upscale neighborhoods.
I visited my beach condo two weeks ago. It's full of chavistas. I was told that the apartment sold to the local mayor fetched more than the owner thought she would get. Prices are back up to US$1,000 a square meter. They had been as low as $375 around 2004. Nothing has changed, only we have new "Amos del Valle."
If Jimmy Carter came likely he would be lynched - the weasel. As far as I know there were no foreign observers, for all the good they did in the past, I certainly didn't miss them.
El día estuvo tranquilo. La votación normal aunque pareciera que hubo "Operación Morrocoy" por parte del gobierno. La gente se quejó y vociferó "¡Queremos votar!" Cerca de las 11 AM dejaron parcialmente sin efecto el primer capta huellas que era el punto de tranca.
Ya son las 9:00 hora local y todavía no hay resultados. En el exterior están diciendo que Pariles ganó 53% a 47%. Hay una calma extraña en el ambiente. Como siempre muchs rumores.
Capriles está optimista:
Henrique Capriles R.Verified @hcapriles Calma,cordura,paciencia!Hoy fue una jornada histórica,grandiosa,un pueblo que habló!Sabemos lo que pasó y debemos esperar!Que viva Vzla!
It's 4:30 VE (local time) and the weather is holding up just fine which is good news as people won't need to flee the rain.
Chavez's socialist rule at risk as Venezuelans vote
By Daniel Wallis and Todd Benson | Reuters – 14 mins ago
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelans lined up for hours in searing tropical heat on Sunday to vote in the biggest electoral test yet to President Hugo Chavez's socialist rule from a young rival tapping into discontent over crime and cronyism.
Henrique Capriles, a centrist state governor, narrowed the gap with Chavez in final polls thanks to a vigorous campaign that generated widespread enthusiasm, giving the opposition its best chance in 14 years to unseat the popular president and take the reins of South America's leading oil exporter.
Chavez has used record oil revenue to support ideological allies around the world while preaching a fiercely anti-American line, so the election is being watched eagerly from the United States and Cuba to Belarus and Iran.
Thousands of Chavez supporters lined the streets to welcome him as he arrived at the school in a Caracas hillside slum where he cast his vote. Some handed him flowers, and one elderly woman serenaded the president with a folk song in his honor.
"Today is a day of joy, a day of democracy, a day for the fatherland," Chavez said, adding that a massive turnout meant that voting could take longer than expected.
In a show of vigor, Chavez - who underwent grueling cancer treatment in the past year - shadow-boxed with U.S. actor Danny Glover, who was on hand with some other celebrity fans of the Venezuelan leader to watch him vote.
In poor neighborhoods, where Chavez draws his most fervent following, supporters blew bugles and trumpets in a predawn wake-up call. In the run-down center of Caracas, red-clad loyalists shouted "Long live Chavez!" from the back of trucks.
Despite his remarkable comeback from cancer, Chavez, 58, could not match the energy of past campaigns - or the pace set by his 40-year-old basketball-loving opponent.
Capriles, who showed up to vote in his lucky shoes, struck a conciliatory tone, urging Venezuelans resolve their differences at the ballot box.
"Whatever the people decide today is sacred," he said to screaming applause from supporters. "To know how to win, you have to know how to lose."
In wealthy enclaves of the capital, Capriles supporters geared up for the vote by banging pots and pans overnight.
"Today I'm doing my bit to build a new Venezuela," said Francesca Pipoli, 26, walking to vote with two friends in the city's upscale Sebucan district. "Capriles for president!" all three sang in the street. "Henrique, marry me!" said one.
In the United States, Venezuelan expats flocked to New Orleans to vote - mostly for Capriles - after Chavez closed the country's consulate in Miami earlier this year.
NO FORMAL ELECTION OBSERVERS
Most well-known pollsters put Chavez in front. But two have Capriles just ahead, and his numbers have crept up in others.
Some worry that violence could break out if the result is contested. There are no formal international observers, but a delegation from the UNASUR group of South American nations is in Venezuela to "accompany" the vote.
Local groups are also monitoring the election and both sides say they trust the electronic, fingerprint voting system. The opposition deployed witnesses to all of the 13,810 polling centers, from tiny Amazon villages to tough Caracas slums.
In a politically polarized country where firearms are common and the murder rate is one of the world's highest, tensions have risen in recent weeks as both campaigns used harsh rhetoric. Three Capriles activists were shot and killed by alleged Chavez loyalists on September 29 at a campaign rally in rural Venezuela.
After voting, Chavez pledged to respect the election results and called on the opposition - who he suggested could cry foul if he comes out on top - to do the same. Some opposition activists fear Chavez could refuse to step down if he loses.
A Capriles victory would unseat the most vocal critic of the United States in Latin America, and could lead to new deals for oil companies in an OPEC nation that pumps about 3 million barrels a day and boasts the world's biggest crude reserves.
OBSTACLES TO ANY TRANSITION
Capriles wants to copy Brazil's model of respect for private enterprise with strong social welfare programs if he is elected - but he would face big challenges from day one. For starters, he would not take office until January 2013, meaning Chavez loyalists could throw obstacles in the way of the transition.
He would also have to develop a plan to tackle high inflation, price distortions and an overvalued currency, while surely butting heads with the National Assembly, judiciary and state oil company PDVSA - all dominated by "Chavistas."
Another big task would be to figure out the real level of state finances. Last month, a Reuters investigation found that half of public investment went into a secretive off-budget fund that is controlled by Chavez and has no oversight by Congress.
The president has denounced his foes as traitors and told voters they plan to cancel his signature social "missions," which range from subsidized food stores to programs that build houses and pay cash stipends to poor women with children.
Tens of thousands of new homes have been handed over this year, often to tearful Chavez supporters at televised events.
If Chavez wins, he would likely consolidate state control over Venezuela's economy and continue backing leftist governments across Latin America such as communist-led Cuba, which receives Venezuelan oil at a discount.
Any recurrence of Chavez's cancer would be a big blow to his plans, however, and could give the opposition another chance.
Investors who have made Venezuela's bonds some of the most widely traded emerging market debt are on tenterhooks.
"There is a perception that a tight electoral outcome may trigger social and political unrest and market volatility," Goldman Sachs said in a research note.
Voting runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. (1030-2230 GMT), although polls will stay open later if there are still queues. Results are due any time starting late on Sunday evening.
The electoral authority says it will only announce the results once there is an "irreversible trend" and parties are barred from declaring victory in advance of that announcement. (To follow us on Twitter: @ReutersVzla) (For multimedia coverage, go to http://reut.rs/QzUtvN)
(Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne, Deisy Buitrago, Mario Naranjo, Liamar Ramos and Girish Gupta; Editing by Doina Chiacu)