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Why Venezuela’s neighbours are hoping for a Chavez win




SÃO PAULO – When Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with Hugo Chávez’s opponent Henrique Capriles, recently in Bogotá, the Venezuelan opposition brandished the pictures like a trophy.

In effect, this meeting was a rare achievement in a region where Chávez maintains a close strategic relationship with his neighbors, and is hailed as a benefactor by the countries to which he sells oil at bargain rates.

Most of Latin America is hoping for Chávez to stay in power after next Sunday’s election. Besides former rival Colombia, countries such as Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Nicaragua and Cuba want him to win as easily as possible, to avoid any turbulence in the region.

The only exception in the region is Paraguay, who opposed Venezuela’s entry into Mercosur this summer. Venezuela’s admission into the trading bloc was made possible thanks to Paraguay’s temporary suspension after its president was impeached.

“President Santos’ gesture, so close to the election, made us realize how unfriendly our neighbors have been with Capriles,” says Carlos Romero, professor at the Central University of Venezuela, who worked on the Capriles campaign. “This late acknowledgment also shows that the opposition has more chances than it was previously thought.”

The meeting with Santos was followed by a statement saying that Colombia would remain “neutral” in Venezuela’s elections.

The Colombian president has been using Chávez’s proximity to the FARC rebels to help kickstart peace negotiations that will begin this month.

It seems unlikely that the FARC will support the change from Chávez to the “bourgeois” Capriles.

Close friends and oil subsidies

Brazil has a close and profitable relationship with Chávez. The Venezuelan president is also supported by leftist campaign strategist, João Santana, who was behind the winning campaigns of President Dilma and former President Lula.

Senior members of the Brazilian Labor Party (PT) are also following the election closely. One of them, who has contacts within the Venezuelan government, told Folha that he is worried some Chávez ministers will refuse to leave power if Capriles wins.

Another region with a vested interest in the election’s outcome is the Caribbean, particularly Cuba: the Capriles camp has said they would no longer subsidize oil, which would have a strong impact on the island-nation.

“Capriles’ victory would undoubtedly cause a crisis in the Caribbean, due to his rightist view that oil should be used to fleece our poor neighbors,” said Rodrigo Cabeza, Chávez’s former finance minister.

Outside Latin America, Russia and China, Venezuela’s largest creditors, have billion-dollar projects underway in Venezuela. Capriles has promised to review the agreements with China and has criticized the purchase of military weapons from Russia.

If Chávez loses, the Iranian government would lose its biggest ally in the Western world, and also gain a Venezuelan president with Jewish ancestry.

The U.S. on the other hand is hoping for a Capriles win, even though the two countries’ disagreements have largely diminished under the Obama administration.

One country that would probably be truly happy if Capriles won would be Israel, which has broken diplomatic relations with Venezuela.