Early October will see an election in one of the most politically influential states in Latin America, Venezuela. Since Hugo Chavez was elected he has become the face of leftists in Latin America and populists worldwide. This upcoming election against rival Capriles is likely to be the closest race in Chavez’s career with polls contradicting themselves, showing both Capriles and Chavez ahead depending on the poll and the day when it is read. Two factors work to push votes in either direction in this upcoming election. One major concern is the personal health of Hugo Chavez who is suffering from cancer and was undergoing treatments recently and during parts of his campaign. The thought of the leader of leftist Latin America possibly not being able to continue with his leadership goals due to illness may pull votes away from him. So far Chavez has been able to show himself as a strong individual, taking his fight against the illness attacking his body and projecting his will to survive on his campaign. Claims by the opposition that Chavez is using is position as President to fund his re-election is a major accusation and is fuelling opposition against an added term in office. Further accusations of China supporting Chavez due to lucrative oil agreements benefitting China also has played into the opposition against Hugo Chavez.
For years there has been criticism of national programs that use large amounts of oil revenue to fund projects issued by the office of the president towards large projects and social development programs for the poor of Venezuela. While many communities in Venezuela have benefitted greatly from the programs, many programs have also fallen into disuse, with projects having millions spent on them with nothing to show for it in the end. Funds from these projects often have no transparent records and are not scrutinised by the Congress. In addition, this fund makes up almost a third of investment funds going into Venezuela, more than the US put into reconstruction for Iraq at $29 billion. Over seven years, opposition leaders claim that over $105 billion has been spent with no records to show for its progress as the program is controlled and signed through by Hugo Chavez directly. While this likely is a great concern for many Venezuelans, many communities now have hospitals and homes where none of this existed before Chavez. It is likely that many poorer Venezuelans would vote for the person who gave them the most opportunities, as would anyone in the same position, and for good reason.
China has taken advantage of many conditions in Venezuela and Latin America in order to secure its own oil reserves for future development and industrialisation in China. With a lack of attention from the US towards South America, China has invested in development and large projects in exchange for guaranteed commodity access throughout the region. When referring to Venezuela, China has made agreements with Venezuela to invest and help build up Venezuela with funds and expertise in exchange for secured oil access to Venezuela’s reserves. These agreements allows China to have access to oil, as opposed to fluctuating currencies, and also places Chinese firms and workers in Venezuela to handle and manage many large industrial projects taking place in Venezuela under Chinese support. China does not wish to appear to be influencing elections in Venezuela as not to awaken the attention of the US. While Chavez uses his control of a portion of Venezuela’s oil wealth to promote his revolution and re-election in the country, China would have no reason to complicate its current beneficial position in the agreements with Chavez and Venezuela. While China may not be influencing the election directly, it likely would prefer a relationship with Chavez, who would ensure strong ties and dependence on China as well as do everything to avoid dealing with the US, even if it is at the detriment of Venezuela and competitors to Chinese investment. Chinese funds certainly are going to Chavez and he is likely investing as much as he can to ensure his re-election.
October 7th will show the true results of the positions of the candidates at the outcome of the election. While Chavez may help the poor, it is not every poorer Venezuelan who will vote for him. There have already been accusations of Venezuelans losing work opportunities to Chinese workers brought in on cooperative projects in Venezuela. There have also been instances where Venezuelan workers have been abused, and even assaulted when complaining about work conditions on Chinese projects in their country. There are certainly a mix of opinions and voters in the upcoming election that is not limited to class or position in Venezuelan society. We await the results for the next great discussion.