“I congratulate the opposition and the directors of the opposition, because they recognize the victory of the people,” Chavez told throngs of supporters gathered outside the presidential palace. “That’s why I send them this salute and put out my arms to them, because we are all brothers in the fatherland of Bolivar.”
Half an hour later, Capriles conceded at his campaign headquarters. But he signaled that the support of millions of Venezuelans showed that his proposals had struck a chord. And he asked that Chavez, who often mocks his foes as oligarchs and lackeys of U.S. imperialism, take the opposition’s needs into account.
“I’m convinced that this country can be better,” Capriles said in a halting, emotional speech. “Being a good president means working for all Venezuelans.”
Chavez’s victory touched off wild celebrations in the capital, where crowds of the president’s red-shirted supporters — the “Chavistas” from the poorest barrios who have been the backbone of his movement — set off fireworks and blew horns.
“You can’t do better than this president,” said Miguel Guevara, 77, who sells books in the streets and voted in a poor barrio whose support helped bring Chavez to power. “The only one who has helped the country is named Hugo Chavez.”
The president of the electoral council, Tibisay Lucena, said more than 80 percent of the country’s nearly 19 million registered voters participated in the election.
“To the participants who didn’t get victory, consider yourselves victors, too,” she said in making her announcement to loud cheers among Chavez’s supporters. “To participate in an electoral process like this one, in democracy, is a victory for the whole people of Venezuela. The entire country has won.”
Chavez still faces a host of challenges that were highlighted by Capriles’s focused, well-organized campaign, in which the youthful lawyer — known as “Skinny” to his followers — hammered the government daily for the country’s decaying infrastructure, increasing dependence on oil exports and inability to control one of the world’s highest homicide rates.
A largely forgotten topic in recent months that may again become a major issue is the tumor in Chavez’s pelvic region that he has said was removed this year. Although he announced that he was cured after months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, details about his health remain a state secret.