Hellieth Pedroza–One of our more timely events was last Thursday’s presentation by Javier Corrales, Professor of Political Science at Amherst University, who discussed the elections in Venezuela for the World Affairs Council.
As a Venezuelan myself, I was as enthusiastic about the presentation as I was anxious about the actual election results. In case you aren’t familiar with Venezuelan politics, Socialist Hugo Chavez has been president for 12 years, and he is running for another term while also fighting cancer. His opponent, Henrique Capriles, is younger and has captured the imagination of many Venezuelans, but defeating Chavez will be difficult.
Corrales stopped short of predicting the outcome, but he did lay out various reasons why the outcome might go one way or the other.
Working against Chavez is (1) a generally lackluster economy over his last term. (2) His cancer, which not only saps his strength, but also highlights Venezuela’s lack of a succession mechanism–making many Venezuelans leery of voting for a man who may not live and leaving the country in the hands of a–literally–unknown person. (3) General charges of corruption against the country. (4) Mismanagement of the oil revenues in the country. (5) Crime. On the latter point, the homicide rate in Venezuela is 70 per 100,000. To put that into perspective, the homicide rate in the US is 4 per 100,000.
In Chavez’s favor, however, is that (1) the economy has improved somewhat recently, (2) his popularity–which he bolsters with discretionary spending–is well over 50 percent, (3) and the support of many of Venezuela’s poor, which make up a large portion of the populace.
Corrales seemed to think that the second outcome was the most likely, but he did point out that, either way, this would be the most difficult of Chavez’s life. As a supporter of Capriles, I left the presentation a little disappointed because I thought he would say that the challenger had a better chance of winning, although I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with Corrales.
My spirits, however, were soon elevated when we went Sabor Venezolano, a Venezuelan restaurant in Houston.
I showed to all the members that attended this event what food they should get, and my favorite dishes–arepas, chicharron, and cachapas.
I was so glad many members decided to join me in this event and were so curious about my culture. The Javier Corrales’ Event was a fantastic opportunity for me to show the Junior Fellows where I am from, and I am so thankful for the interest they showed in my background.
Postscript: It appears that Chavez won the election, by a margin of 54-45, or about 1.3 million votes. Eighty-one percent of Venezuelans voted.