Chavez Faces Toughest Test In Venezuela Election

Aug 15, 2012

Forget the US election. 

There may be an even more important presidential vote taking place in Venezuela this fall. 

After a battle with an undisclosed form of cancer, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has pronounced himself healthy enough for reelection.
Credit cc-by Valter Campanato - Agencia Brasil.

Miami Herald South America bureau chief Jim Wyss updates WLRN's Phil Latzman on Hugo Chavez's fight to keep his job against upstart opponent Henrique Capriles. Also discussed: political strife in Colombia and Latin American countries tasting rare Olympic glory during the Summer Games in London.  

Phil Latzman:  Let's begin with the presidential race in Venezuela.  It's Hugo Chavez trying to keep his office against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, and the election is in October.  What's the latest?   

Jim Wyss: Both men are out and about and trying to wrap up as many votes as they can before the October 7th election. Polls are all over the place. Most give Chavez, who's been in power for 13 years, a double digit lead. Others however say it's a much tougher race. Capriles of course says he has access to private polling information that gives him the lead. What we do know is that about 28 to 30 percent of the voters say they haven't decided. These are what they call the "nee nees", because they are neither for Chavez nor for Capriles. Pollsters say as in elections past, the "nee nees" are going to be a very important part of this process.

Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski campaigns to unseat President Chavez at Parque Miranda

Phil Latzman: It's pretty amazing that just a few months ago we were talking about Chavez being on his deathbed. Now, he's made a recovery--whether it's a full recovery from his cancer--we don't know, but he's back on the campaign trail.  Is this the old Hugo Chavez? Is he back? 

Jim Wyss: It's not the old Hugo Chavez. But he's certainly seems like a man much recovered. He's out on the campaign trial, he's back to being in the public eye very often. People in the opposition say most of his events do seem staged. That he's not the glad-handing, back-slapping campaigning machine of yesterday. But there's no question that he's out there doing the job of campaigning.

Phil Latzman: A lot of people in Miami looking at that race and some of them are even heading to New Orleans to vote in it in October. There's a big movement after the Venezuelan embassy closed in Miami.  But moving on to neighboring Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos has seen some controversy lately. What's happening there?

Jim Wyss: It's interesting. Out of Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia, Colombia is the only country not going into elections right now. Juan Manuel Santos is hitting the halfway mark in his 4-year presidency, and he's had a bit of a rough going. The latest polls give him favorability ratings of 47 percent, which is down from 71% a year ago. This is a man who had been very, very popular. His honeymoon period lasted a long time. the sense that security deteriorating, there was a very  botched judicial reform push in congress. He's talked a lot about how he has not been able to communicate his achievements very well during these first two years, and  he's making a real concerted effort to do that now.

Phil Latzman: Jim on a final note, the Summer Olympics are now over and there are some countries in Latin America that are walking away with hardware they're not used to having. Tell us what happened.

Jim Wyss: By and large Latin America did really well this year. Brazil once again was the top-winner in the region with 17 medals. Cuba was number 2 with 14 medals. The real surprise was Colombia came in was 3rd with 8 medals, beating longtime rivals like Argentina and Mexico. And what was really interesting is that going into the Olympics, there were 5  Spanish-speaking Latin American countries that had never won a medal: Bolivia, El Salvador,  Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. But Guatemala won a silver this year, so they're off the list. 

On Capriles is a youthful challenger

On Chavez the born fighter