7 December 2006 Edition

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International: Elections confirm left wing trend across Latin America

Chavez sweeps to victory

BY EOIN O BROIN

"Long live the revolution. Venezuela is demonstrating that a new and better world is possible, and we are building it."

With these words, President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez celebrated his third decisive presidential electoral victory this week since first coming to power in 1998.

Capturing over 63% of the vote in a closely fought election which brought more than 70% of voters to the polls, Chavez promised to deepen his Bolivarian revolution both at home and across Latin America.

Despite a firm challenge from the US-backed conservative candidate Manuel Rosales, the scale of the Chavista victory saw the opposition concede defeat before the final tally was returned.

Speaking to supporters at a post victory rally in Caracas the Venazuelan president said: "Today a new era has started, with the expansion of the revolution."

Massive wealth redistribution

At the centre of Chavez's popularity has been a massive redistribution of the country's oil wealth, primarily focusing on significant levels of social spending in the areas of public health, education and nutrition projects. Government expenditure has increased from $8 billion a year in 2000 to $56 billion this year as the country has benefited from the dramatic increase in global oil prices.

As a consequence of such policies the country's poverty levels have started to decrease for the first time in several decades, according to the United Nations.

Chavez's election confirms the steadily growing left wing trend across Latin America. With six left-of-centre governments in the region - Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolovia - and significant mobilisation in Mexico, Latin America is fast becoming the focal point of global opposition to neo-liberal economic and US foreign policy hegemony.

Significant differences do exist between these governments, both on regional and global concern. However there is little doubt that the regional strength of the left, in what was for two decades the epicentre of IMF and World Bank sponsored structural adjustment and privatisation programes, indicates that Latin America is without doubt entering a new era.

Meanwhile,despite Washington's deep seated disdain for the Chavez government, senior US diplomat Tom Shannon adopted a conciliatory tone suggesting that: "This is a time in which, following the election, we can look at the areas where historically we've worked together well. Whether it's on the fight against drugs, the fight against terrorism, promoting a commercial relationship with Venezuela or, most importantly of all, our energy relationship, and see how we can construct something positive."

Expressing the sentiments of the majority of his country's population, particularly the most marginalised, student activist Abraham Aparicio said: "Before Chavez, the people who lived in the wealthier neighbourhoods made the poor believe they were marginal and excluded them from everything. Now the President wants to give more power to the poor, and the old elites don't like it."


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