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Venezuela's President Chavez Aims for 20 Years in Office

  • Fern Robinson

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez emerged victorious Sunday from the presidential election. If he completes his six-year term, the South American leader will have held the reins of power in the oil-rich country for 20 years.

President Chavez was not able to campaign as vigorously this year as he has in the past. He has been fighting cancer and that battle has left him weak and exhausted. The president has not given specific information about the cancer other than it was in the pelvic region and is currently in remission.

Analysts have questioned whether the 58-year-old leader is strong enough to continue to preside over South America's largest oil exporting country and also find solutions for Venezuela's crumbling infrastructure and high murder rate.

The leftist leader has nationalized much of Venezuela's economy since he took power in 1999. He says he wants to improve the life of the country's poor majority. Critics say his policies are scaring off investors. For many poor voters, his socialist vision is a fresh start after decades of governments that paid scant attention to their needs.

Chavez knows his base

President Chavez has poured billions of dollars in oil revenues into domestic anti-poverty programs and has skillfully used his humble roots and folksy oratory to build a close connection with the masses.

His win Sunday also brought a sigh of relief to his leftist allies around the Latin American region - from Cuba to Bolivia - who also rely on Mr. Chavez's oil-financed generosity.

President Chavez has cultivated support in the region by confronting the U.S., which he has denounced as a decadent, war-mongering empire. He has increased fuel sales to anti-Western states, including Belarus, Iran and Syria.

Analysts says Sunday's vote was the toughest election the president has faced after nearly 14 years in power. His opponent, Henrique Capriles, received more votes than any previous challengers.

Election officials say 81 percent of the nearly 19 million registered voters went to the polls.