Chavez Successor Wins Presidential Election
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene. And Steve Inskeep, it's good to have you back from Venezuela. Sounds like a great trip.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It was a great trip, David. It's a delight to be back and now we see the aftermath of the story we were covering there. Consider this to be one more victory claimed by the late Hugo Chavez. Venezuela's longtime president died in March. And as we heard on this program in recent days, the short but intense campaign to replace Chavez opened a window on a changing Latin America.
The campaign also showcased a deeply divided country, which remains that way on this morning after the election. Chavez' chosen successor spoke as if Hugo Chavez were still alive. And the government says the successor won. But the election was closer than any while Chavez was really on the ballot, and the opposition leader has not conceded defeat.
NPR's Juan Forero reports.
JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: The government used all of its resources to sell its candidate, Nicolas Maduro, an imposing 50-year-old former union activist who had been at Chavez's side for 20 years.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
FORERO: And it made sure that Venezuelans understood that a vote for Maduro would be like casting a ballot for the late president.
In recent weeks, the strategy appeared to be paying off, with Maduro enjoying a double digit lead in the polls over Henrique Capriles. But in a brief and raucous campaign, Capriles began to catch up, as he characterized Maduro and other high officials as politically-connected operators who pilfered public funds.
HENRIQUE CAPRILES: (Spanish spoken)
FORERO: I want to say we can't put our trust in that little group of connected people who didn't get anything done in 14 years, Capriles said in one speech last week.
In the voting on Sunday, Maduro took 50.6 percent of the vote, about 7.5 million ballots. It was only 235,000 more than Capriles and Capriles did not concede.
CAPRILES: (Spanish spoken)
FORERO: The one who lost today is you, Capriles said in a press conference, directing his comments at Maduro. He then spoke of how the state used its vast resources to get the vote out for Maduro, and how there were hundreds of irregularities on election day.
CAPRILES: (Spanish spoken)
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
FORERO: We're not going to recognize a result until each and every vote is counted, one by one, he added.
Minutes earlier, Maduro convened a rally in front of the presidential palace, the palace where Chavez often gave rousing speeches after his triumphant victories in election after election.
NICOLAS MADURO: (Spanish spoken)
FORERO: We're not afraid to count, Maduro said, let the boxes do the talking.
But he also sounded triumphant, saying that the people had spoken, and that what they wanted was the self-styled socialist revolution that Chavez had begun. That's meant the seizures of businesses and farmland, currency controls and efforts to form alliances against the United States.
MADURO: (Spanish spoken)
FORERO: Mission accomplished, Commander Chavez, Maduro said.
The crowd then heard a recording of Chavez, leading the throngs in singing the national anthem.
CROWD: (Singing in Spanish)
FORERO: The day started out as it normally does when an election is staged in Venezuela - with bugles sounding - ensuring that pro-government voters get to the polls.
(SOUNDBITE OF BUGLE)
FORERO: Claudio Aguilar heeded the call early.
CLAUDIO AGUILAR: (Spanish spoken)
FORERO: Yes, I voted at 6 A.M. And I went for Chavez because if not the winner is the empire, he said.
That meant the United States, which had been Chavez's main adversary in all his years in office. But even Aguilar complained about problems like crime, which is rampant in Venezuela.
Analysts say high inflation and electrical blackouts also prompted people to vote for Capriles.
At Christ the King, a school in a prosperous sector of Caracas, several voters said they were fed up with the state of the economy.
PIO HERNANDEZ: (Spanish spoken)
FORERO: It's everything, said Pio Hernandez, moments after casting his ballot. There's no order. Corruption and the fiscal deficit are big problems. Everything is chaotic.
And it was people like Hernandez who came out to vote in big numbers for Capriles.
Juan Forero, NPR News, Caracas
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