Chávez storms to re-election victory

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez stormed to a re-election victory in Sunday’s vote, handing him an ample mandate to broaden his promised socialist revolution and challenge Washington’s influence in Latin America.

Dressed in his signature red shirt, Chávez told cheering supporters at his presidential palace late Sunday his landslide was a blow to United States President George Bush’s administration, which portrays the leftist as an anti-democratic menace.

“Today we gave another lesson in dignity to the imperialists, it is another defeat for the empire of Mr Danger,” Chávez roared from a balcony above the crowds using one of the insults he has tossed at the US president.

The former soldier’s victory will further rile the White House, which worries about Chávez destabilising Latin America neighbours and strengthening ties between the Opec heavyweight Venezuela and US foes Cuba and Iran.

The National Electoral Council said Chávez won 61% of the vote while rival Manuel Rosales, a governor of an oil-producing province who managed to unite the fractured opposition, won 38% after nearly 80% of the vote had been counted.

Chávez supporters fired off thunderous fireworks in the capital and drove through Caracas chanting “Hey ho, Chávez will not go” to celebrate his securing six more years in office.

Leftist tide

Chávez is the fourth leftist to win an election in Latin America in the past five weeks.

Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, who calls himself an ally of the Venezuelan, won a run-off last week after promising sweeping political reforms. Leftists Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua also have won recent presidential elections.

Rosales, who for many opposition supporters was a bright hope to beat Chávez, acknowledged defeat but promised to keep fighting. He was greeted by cries of “coward” by some upset supporters as he left his campaign headquarters.

“We recognise they beat us today but we will continue the fight,” said Rosales (53) who drew his main support from the middle and upper classes in the polarised nation.

The country’s opposition movement struggled to challenge Chávez after he defeated a recall referendum in 2004.
Many opposition supporters believe Chávez has an unfair advantage by controlling key institutions such as the election council.

But supporters applaud the man they fondly call “El Comandante” for spending the country’s soaring oil wealth on free health and education programmes for the poor majority who feel long-abandoned by previous governments.

A retired army paratrooper who led a failed military rebellion before his 1998 election, Chávez has survived a brief coup, an oil strike and scores of demonstrations during his seven years in the Miraflores presidential palace.

Worrying his opponents, Chávez has vowed to use a fresh mandate to scrap presidential term limits and create a single-party that he expects to lead in power for decades.

Having already taken on multinational oil giants to demand they hand more control to the state, Chávez will likely press for more share of Venezuela’s vast oil and mineral resources and increase land distribution for the rural poor. - Reuters

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