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Venezuelans Mull Chavez Re-election Victory

Venezuela remains abuzz after Sunday's re-election victory by socialist President Hugo Chavez over an opposition candidate who was barely known in the country just a few months ago. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Caracas, reaction is decidedly mixed depending on the political leanings of the people one encounters.

Sitting on the well-manicured grounds of Caracas' Plaza Altamira, Mauro Vicente Leon savors the day's headlines proclaiming President Chavez' victory. A retired mechanic, Leon says there is no mystery as to why the president won.

He says, "Chavez is someone who does what he says. Whatever he promises, he follows through on. He has done so, and he will do so. It is that simple."

Sitting next to Leon is his friend, Jose Navarrete, who says many Venezuelans associate the opposition with previous governments that never followed through on promises made to the poor.

He says, "The opposition, in the years when it was in power, never cared about the poor people. And since Chavez has created so many programs [for the poor], the people adore him, especially those who are dispossessed, who are the most numerous here in Venezuela."

It is difficult to find anything on which pro and anti-Chavez voters agree. But, on the other side of Plaza Altamira, a somber Francisco Minuta, who voted for opposition candidate Manuel Rosales, agrees that many who most-bitterly complain about the current government once had an attitude of benign neglect towards the less fortunate in society.

He says, "The districts that are loyal to the opposition have to do more for the lower classes. We have always had rich governments for rich people. Chavez changed all of that."

Already, opposition voters like Minuta, an administrator for a private telecommunications firm, are thinking about what they can do to mount a more effective campaign in the next election.

Political analyst Manuel Malavar says the opposition should not be disheartened by Sunday's stinging defeat. He argues that, in uniting the once-fractured opposition, Rosales, a state governor, has laid a foundation for future success.

He says, "From now on, Chavez will be confronting a more organic, better-structured political operation with a leader who can rally the middle class, who has experience in government, and who is willing to join the battle."

Over the next six years, the president has promised to launch a new phase of his so-called "Bolivarian Revolution" that has seen billions of dollars of Venezuela's oil wealth devoted to social programs. Just what that new phase will entail is a matter of debate among Venezuelans.

Salesman and Chavez-supporter Freddy Medina made this prediction:

He says, "We are going to have a participatory government. We are going to provide opportunities for those who want to learn. The person who never had opportunity will earn a just wage, will have a place to live, and will have basic health care."

Francisco Minuta is decidedly less optimistic.

He says, "We are heading towards a situation like Kosovo. If you read the history [of Kosovo] it is very similar. I fear we are heading towards laws in which our children and our property will be taken by the state. It will be ugly. We are living with terrible uncertainty."

Political analyst Manuel Malaver says there is much confusion about Mr. Chavez' intentions.

He says, "What exactly is the Bolivarian Revolution? No one knows. What is the president's socialism of the 21st Century? No one knows. This is a leader who uses radical rhetoric but who uses it to consolidate the power he has exercised over the last eight years."

In his victory speech late Sunday, President Chavez promised to reach out to the opposition in the years ahead. Manuel Rosales acknowledged defeat, but pledged he would not disappear from the political stage.