Observers on the ground in Venezuela are saying that despite overwhelming advantages, Hugo Chavez is in trouble and, in a fair election, could very well lose to Henrique Capriles, the charismatic 40 year old former state governor.
The 40-year old state governor has run a nearly flawless campaign: sidelining the opposition's reactionary wing in favor of a much more moderate Social Democratic stance. Young, nimble and energetic, Capriles has spoken to working class Venezuelans in less urban parts of the country in their own language-certainly much more so than the more conservative leaders who led the opposition before him. Running on a record of achievement in his home state of Miranda, Capriles has capitalized on people's growing day-to-day frustration with the dysfunctional chavista state, promising to keep its popular social programs while radically cracking down on the runaway waste, corruption and political sectarianism that hobble every chavista initiative.
It's been a brilliantly executed campaign against a government that, for all its oil billions, has made one blunder after another on the trail. Chávez legendary common touch has been nowhere in sight. Instead he's been campaigning on a platform top-heavy with distant abstractions about "building Bolivarian socialism of the 21st century in Venezuela as an alternative to destructive and savage capitalism," "achieving equilibrium in the universe and guaranteeing planetary peace" and "preserving life on the planet and saving the human species."
In a strange way, Capriles has positioned himself as Chávez's heir more than his competitor, the one best positioned to straighten out the chavista state and make good on the promise of radical social reform Chávez promised, but that his bloated, corruption-ridden state could never deliver. And that's why, despite the thousands of hours of chavista propaganda broadcasts, despite the petrobillions spent on populist giveaways, despite all of the crushing advantages of incumbency in an authoritarian petrostate, Henrique Capriles really does have a chance this Sunday.
And that, in itself, is a remarkable achievement.
I discussed the Venezuelan presidential election a few weeks ago on my radio show with Latin American experts Fausta Wertz and former ambassador Jaime Darenblum. Both believe that it will be nearly impossible for Capriles to win because Chavez controls the electoral apparatus and if it is close, will likely steal the election.
For Capriles to win, he would have to draw a clear majority of support - and even then, nothing is certain. Still, it is heartening to see the Venezuelan people awaking from their decade long slumber to throw this strutting peacock of a dictator out of office.