The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Venezuela reelects Hugo Chavez, continues trend of leftist governments in South America

In a reelection to another six-year term, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez defeated challenger Henrique Capriles in Sunday’s presidential election by a 10 percentage point margin.

Sunday’s election marks Chavez’s fourth presidential election win since 1998, an indication that Venezuela, like many other South American countries, prefers leftist governments that improve living standards and actively pursue poverty reduction, says the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

“I congratulate the opposition and the directors of the opposition, because they recognize the victory of the people,” Chavez told supporters Sunday. “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.”

“Chávez is often portrayed as though he were from Mars, but really the similarities between what he has done and what his neighboring left governments have done are much greater than the differences,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of CEPR, in a statement.

Weisbrot notes that the leftist presidents and their parties have all been reelected, some of them more than once:

-Rafael Correa was reelected president of Ecuador by a wide margin in 2009.

-Lula da Silva of Brazil was reelected in 2006 and successfully campaigned for his former chief of staff, now President Dilma Rousseff, in 2010.

-Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president in a majority indigenous country, was reelected in 2009.

-José Mujica succeeded his predecessor from the same political alliance in 2009. Cristina Fernández succeeded her husband, the late Néstor Kirchner, winning the 2011 Argentine presidential election.

Weisbrot argues that regional economic cooperation among these countries has resulted in reduced poverty as they take more control over their energy resources.

In Venezuela, that has translated into poverty declining by half, greater access to health care and education, a quadrupling of public pension eligibility and a major housing program that has produced 250,000 new homes since last year.

“It’s really not surprising that all of these governments get reelected, and generally despite most of the media and the wealth and income of the country being in the hands of the opposition,” Weisbrot said. “These governments have delivered on a number of their promises.”

Even though many media accounts predicted a close race between Chavez and Capriles, CEPR’s analysis of data suggested it would not be.