Leftists aglow, U.S. cautious over Chavez win

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez waves the national flag while celebrating from a balcony at Miraflores Palace in Caracas October 7, 2012. (REUTERS/Jorge Silva)

CARACAS/MIAMI: Leftist Latin American leaders Monday cheered the re-election of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez as a democratic endorsement of the anti-U.S. populism he has championed across the region.

Following his victory, Chavez spoke to thousands of supporters from his Miraflores official residence, thanking God and promising to be a better president.

“I want to include everybody, including sectors of the opposition,” he said.

“I commit to being a better president than I’ve been these past few years ... I thank God and ask him life and health to keep serving the Venezuelan people.”

The United States reacted with caution over the outcome of Sunday’s election, and regional heavyweights like Brazil and Mexico were polite but more restrained in their congratulations.

But other Latin American governments exulted in his re-election to another six years in office.

“I congratulate you for this historic triumph, which demonstrates the strength of the Bolivarian revolution and its unquestionable popular support,” Cuba’s communist President Raul Castro said.

Since coming to power more than 14 years ago, Chavez has emerged as the political heir to Fidel Castro, looking to the Cuban leader for inspiration and advice for his own socialist and defiantly anti-American revolution.

Over the years, Chavez has used Venezuela’s oil wealth to shore up Cuba’s economy and build alliances with like-minded governments.

Although Chavez won more than 54 percent of the vote, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles made a strong showing with nearly 46 percent despite the incumbent commanding the resources of the government and the state-run media.

“We believe that the views of the more than 6 million people who voted for the opposition should be taken into account going forward,” William Ostick, U.S. State Department spokesman said.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, campaigning in Virginia ahead of the U.S. vote on Nov. 6, said he thought “our neighbors in Latin America want to resist the failed ideology of Hugo Chavez and the Castro brothers and deepen ties with the United States on trade, energy and security.”

EU foreign policy leader Catherine Ashton echoed the U.S. position in more cautious terms, congratulating Chavez while urging him “to reach out to all segments” of society.

But China, which has joined Venezuela in joint oil industry ventures, vowed to bring relations between the countries to a “new high.”

Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner called the Venezuelan’s win a victory for all “South America and the Caribbean.”

“Hugo, I want to tell you that you have plowed the land, you’ve planted, you’ve irrigated and now you are bringing in the harvest,” Kirchner wrote.

“Marvelous popular triumph in Venezuela,” tweeted Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, a Chavez ally. “Forward, comrade Chavez. All Latin America is with you and with our beloved Venezuela.”

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales said it was not just a victory for the Venezuelan people but “for the Bolivarian alliance and all of Latin America.”

In Colombia, President Manuel Santos congratulated the Venezuelan people on their high turnout, and his Foreign Ministry congratulated Chavez on his victory.

“For Colombia it will always be a priority to work with Venezuela on maintaining and strengthening relations between the two countries,” the ministry said in a statement.

Brazil, the region’s economic powerhouse, praised the election. Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota noted that it was carried out with “transparency, freedom and calm” despite some localized violence.

Meanwhile, thousands of Venezuelans living in the southern U.S. were distraught Monday and in disbelief after Chavez victory.

“I feel like our people here were betrayed. We are devastated. So much effort for nothing,” said an emotional Francisco Paje, a voter who traveled Friday to New Orleans to cast his ballot because Chavez’s government had closed the consulate in Miami.

The united Venezuelan opposition office in Miami said that in New Orleans, 8,351 votes were cast: 8,349 for Capriles, two blanks and none for Chavez.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 09, 2012, on page 1.




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