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In Venezuela, the future of Chavismo is tested

Yesterday's regional elections are viewed as a litmus test for a future presidential race in Venezuela. To many, it shows that Chavismo, Chávez’s political and social movement, is alive and well.

By Sara Miller LlanaStaff Writer, Andrew RosatiCorrespondent / December 17, 2012



Mexico City; and Caracas, Venezuela

When Venezuela’s leader, Hugo Chávez, won a clear victory in presidential elections in October, it was hardly surprising: The opposition had mounted its strongest campaign ever. But over the course of his 14 years in power, Mr. Chávez has remained widely popular and been re-elected on four separate occasions – no matter oil prices, world politics, or who is in charge in Washington.

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Now, Venezuela is facing the very real possibility that Chávez, who is in Cuba recovering from surgery after being diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer, might have to step down. So the test came yesterday, in the form of regional elections for 23 governors.

Almost all the states during Sunday's election went with the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV). The results are viewed as a litmus test for a future presidential race, if Chávez can no longer run Venezuela. To many, it shows that Chavismo, as Chávez's political and social movement is called, is alive and well.

“There is now evidence that Chavismo can survive without Chávez,” says Miguel Tinker-Salas, a Latin America studies professor at Pomona College and author of several books on Venezuela.

'Not just about Chávez'

In 23 state elections yesterday, 20 governorships were won by Chávez allies, while only three went to the opposition, which had previously held eight. Among the biggest losses were opposition stronghold and oil-rich Zulia state, and Tachira state.  

Some have surmised that Chávez allies were voted in by Venezuelans as a message of sympathy and support for Chávez the man, but Maria Artiga, a homemaker in one of the poor neighborhoods of Caracas called Petare, says the results show that it’s not just about Chávez.  

"Chávez has done so much in los barrios, people want a governor that represents him,” Ms. Artiga says. "I think some people are voting in part to support him while he recovers, but most are voting to support his political program."

The staying power of that political program could be tested very soon. If Chávez is unable to stand for his inauguration on Jan. 10, a new election will be called within 30 days. He has named Vice President Nicolas Maduro as his preferred candidate.

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