Update: Venezuelan election authorities have awarded Hugo Chavez the victory, with 54% of the vote, versus 44% for Capriles — a suspiciously high margin of victory. Sadly, it looks like the nightmare in Venezuela will continue.
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Venezuelans went to the polls today in an historic election that, for the first time in 14 years, provided some hope that the country would extract itself from the iron rule of Hugo Chavez.
The results are being watched worldwide. Venezuela is one of the world’s largest producers of oil and the Chavez regime has firmly allied itself with Cuba, Iran, Bolivia and against the USA. Obviously there are wider geo-political implications here.
And the world’s Jewish community is watching closely too. As Ben Cohen writes in Ha’aretz, Chavez’s opponent, Henrique Capriles, is a Catholic with Jewish lineage and a descendent of Holocaust survivors, and the antisemitism card was widely used by the Chavez camp during the election campaign:
Chavez’s strategy in dealing with the Capriles campaign has avoided actual policy debate. He has focused instead on demonizing his opponent as, variously, an “imperialist,” a “capitalist,” a “little bourgeois,” and – inevitably, given Capriles’ Jewish origins and Chavez’s historic willingness to deploy anti-Semitism for political purposes – a “Zionist.”
These attacks have highlighted the vulnerability of the Venezuelan Jewish community, whose numbers have declined from 30,000 – before Chavez came to power – to just 9,000 now. As a September study by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism noted, “recent years have witnessed a rise in anti-Semitic manifestations, including vandalism, media attacks, caricatures, and physical attacks on Venezuelan Jewish institutions.”
This election is about all Venezuelans, not just the small and besieged Jewish community, of course. People reportedly lined up for hours across the country, and transplanted citizens cast their ballots from around the world. The turnout is being reported at over 70%. And while some early exit polls are predicting a narrow Caprile victory, it’s bound to be close — raising questions about whether Chavez will respect the result in the event of a loss.