Chavez Expected to Win in Venezuela Elections Venezuelans hit the polls Sunday for the country's presidential elections. President Hugo Chavez is expected to win easily over his opponent, Manuel Rosales. But fears of protest have prompted the government to deploy more than 125,000 soldiers across the country to keep violence to a minimum.

Chavez Expected to Win in Venezuela Elections

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

In Venezuela, the polls have closed in today's presidential election. An unusually unified opposition mounted a lively challenge to President Hugo Chavez. Fifteen million voters were estimated to have cast ballots in an election that likely gave Chavez a second term.

NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Caracas and has this report on how election day unfolded.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Lines formed as early as 2:00 a.m. as the country chose between two radically different visions. Chavez would push Venezuela closer to his self-styled social revolution that has won the hearts of vast numbers of Venezuela's poor, but has antagonized Washington.

Opposition leader Manuel Rosales offered a moderate course that would limit the government's grip on the economy and pull Venezuela out from any orbit of Cuba's Fidel Castro, a close ally of Chavez.

But for attorney Carmen Victoria Hernandez, a stalwart Chavez supporter, the country has left behind the establishment she says the opposition would reinstate.

Ms. CARMEN VICTORIA HERNANDEZ (Attorney): (Speaking Spanish)

MCCARTHY: This is a vision of a new country. Finally, thanks to our history and President Hugo Chavez, we have become the launching pad, able to throw off U.S. imperialism and unite Latin America toward a path of integration.

The poor barrios and dingy streets of the capital are where the wellspring of support for Chavez resides. Here, vendors eke out an existence, sustained they say, but the government pensions that give them some $250 a month.

Enrique Columneras(ph) is a 31-year-old paraplegic who hawks chips and assorted candy. He sits behind a small wooden table, his legs curled beneath a metal stool. A Chavez hat pulled over his eyes hides the fact that he is also blind.

Between sales, he says, since Chavez came to power, many of his dreams are now reality.

Mr. ENRIQUE COLUMNERAS (Vendor): (Speaking Spanish)

MCCARTHY: Today is a very special day. It's a marvelous day. Chavez has done a lot of good things, he says. Thanks to him, I have my house, my pension, and government doctors operated on me to try to restore my sight. And because of that, he says, I really love my president.

Chavez drove himself to vote today in a red Volkswagen Beetle. The modest mode of transportation, however, was not likely to impress Venezuela's strapped middle class, many of whom see Chavez enlarging himself at their expense.

Sixty-three-year-old doctor Orlando Castillo says Chavez has spent lavishly abroad at a time when there is so much need at home.

Mr. ORLANDO CASTILLO (Doctor): (Speaking Spanish)

MCCARTHY: If this is really a government for everyone, like Chavez says, it would be completely different, Castillo says. Because there would be various alternatives that could express themselves. Unfortunately, this is an authoritarian and monopolistic government that affects the great majority of the people, he says.

Gwyneth Gonzalez pushed her baby carriage in a line of voters that wound around the block. This 32-year-old mother of two says she worries for the future of her children under Chavez.

Ms. GWYNETH GONZALEZ (Mother): (Speaking Spanish)

MCCARTHY: We have a lot of poverty, a lot of delinquency, a lot of insecurity, and squandering of resources especially in the government, she says. We have these problems because we're wasting money that should be invested in our own country.

Election day passed calmly in Venezuela. Nevertheless, shoppers packed grocery stores in the past few days, stocking up on supplies, fearing street protests or possible unrest.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Caracas.

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