15 de octubre de 2012

Hugo Chávez's re-election: International implications

Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has been re-elected on October 7 and will assume his fourth term in power. The opposition leader Henrique Capriles has immediately acknowledged the results, legitimating the electoral outcome.

Official data shows [es] that 55.2% vote for Hugo Chávez and 44.1% supported Henrique Capriles, the United opposition candidate. The total turn out overpass 81%, of the 19-million electorate, being this one of the most attended elections in Venezuela's history.

There is no electoral fraud, intimidation or coercion officially reported so far. Analysts suggest the electoraleffectiveness of Chávez lay on the large amount of cash and resources that the ruling PSUV (Chavez party) uses for continuing political campaigning, the charisma of the leader with a powerful historic and symbolic political narrative, as well as the active social and political structure behind the leadership. 

Also, as Venezuelan analyst Miguel Angel Martinez argues, many people makes a cost-effective calculation wherebyChavez is convenient in the short-run. It is not irrational but rather utilitarian as there are a number of social programmes carried out in the country directly linked to the figure of the leader and the fear of loosing the aid arose as a voting for the ruling regime.

The re-re-re-elected president's first speech was brief, emotive and rather conciliatory. Chávez called to work for a better “revolutionary democratic socialism”, overcoming the polarised political division within the country. Remarkably, Chávez's speech reflects he is aware of the opposition electoral progress and Capriles', a centre-left politician, appears as a key actor in the future. 

Further down I analyse the Regional and international foreign policy implications of Chávez's re-election.

Regional implications

Certainly the governments of Nicaragua and Cuba breathe more relieved. Both states rely heavily on Venezuela's oil, particularly Cuba as is the only source of energy the island receive due to the US embargo. Also, those applauding Chavez re-election are the nearly 20 Latin American and Caribbean countries, like the economically devastated Haiti, benefiting from the programme Petrocaribe, which provides energy subsidies and preferential oil prices.

Venezuela subsidies the oil to Cuba and even provides cash flow to those countries as direct funds for social programmes that enable their leaders, particularly Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, to accomplish electoral promises and remain in power.

President Chávez, an active notorious player in Latin America's foreign affairs, will seek to strength the hemispheric independent relations and cooperation, particularly championing Regional integration mechanisms and political forums, such as the Latin American and Caribbean States Community CELAC, and the South American UnionUNASUR, which are challenging further the already lowered hegemonic U.S. foreign policy in the Region.

It is worth underlining, nevertheless, that CELAC or UNASUR, are forums highly supported by leaders and governments not particularly close to Chávez, such as Colombian and Chilean presidents -leading rather right-wing governments-. 

On the other hand, the re-election for another 6-year term will most likely boost up also the bilateral relations between Venezuela and Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia, as well as Brazil, the left-wing governments in the Region.

“I'd vote for Obama”

Few days before the Venezuelan election, President Chávez has endorsed publicly US president Barack Obama by stating that “Obama is a good guy” and he were American he “would vote for Obama”.

The ideological and discursive anti-U.S. dimension of Chávez political narrative contrasts the trading agenda. Venezuela and the U.S. are mutually depending on oil trade and, depending on the results of the forthcoming elections in the later, Chavez may seek to normalise the relations with Washington. However, a Republican victory could be rather more difficult to handle in this attempt. 

Venezuela under Chavez has make clear that any the unti-U.S. Government is a potential ally. In the short-run t islikely to follow the same approach. Chávez's victory also implied seeking to strengthen trading with China and using oil to shape foreign policy, in spite of the economic slowdown of the Asian giant.

Upgraded or adjusted relations between Venezuela and Iran, Syria, Russia, and Belarus are yet to be seen, if indeed there are any modifications. Foreign Policy latest article suggests that “the situation in Venezuela remains highly uncertain. Chávez's health is a wild card, as is the price of oil.”

This post was originally published on the Latvian Institute of International Affairs site.

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