Chavez protege wins Venezuela election; opposition protests, refuses to concede

Venezuela concluded its first post-Hugo Chavez presidential election, and it turned out closer than anyone thought. The result, though, was about what most expected, which is that Chavez’ hand-picked successor Nicolas Maduro will run the country for the next six years — probably. His opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski, demanded a recount, claiming that electoral fraud had taken place:

Hugo Chavez’s handpicked successor won a narrow victory in Venezuela’s presidential vote, but his opponent slammed the results as illegitimate and demanded a recount.

Nicolas Maduro secured 50.7% of votes in Sunday’s poll while opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski won 49.1%, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council said.

The council’s top official, Tibisay Lucena, called the results “irreversible.”

An hour later, Capriles vowed to contest them.

“I want to tell the candidate of the government: today you’re the loser and I’m telling you this unequivocally. You are the loser, you and your government,” he said early Monday. …

His refusal to concede left key questions about Venezuela’s future unanswered early Monday: Will authorities recount the votes? How would that process work? And will political tension in the deeply divided country boil over after the tight race?

At least for now, Maduro says he welcomes a recount:

The margin of victory was just over 300,000 votes. Perhaps not coincidentally, Fausta Wertz notes that there were 370,000 “null” votes, which should raise some eyebrows, and also says that overseas votes have not yet been counted.

The Wall Street Journal says that Cuba wasn’t going to let Maduro lose this election, not with its oil lifeline at risk:

Then there was the Cuba factor. The Castro regime has become a big player in Venezuelan politics and had a big stake in the outcome—namely the threat by Mr. Capriles that if he won he would curtail the shipment of some $4 billion in oil annually to the regime. As such Havana made sure it held considerable sway over the outcome.

Last month the Spanish newspaper ABC reported that the regime “is sending a detachment of agents for electoral control that could reach 2,500 officers, according to intelligence information that came out of the island.” Havana admits that there are already some 46,000 Cubans serving the “revolution” in Venezuela. These are supposedly medical personnel, teachers and trainers, but a former high-ranking chavista who didn’t want to be identified told ABC that “all of that is a cover to hide the control that Cuba has in Venezuela.”

That comment was supported by the declaration by Cuba’s chief of missions in Venezuela that the missions are there “to ensure our commitment; if until now we have been giving our all, [we] now are ready to give even our lives, our blood, if it were needed for this revolution.”‘

It wasn’t just the Cubans, though:

If Mr. Capriles prevailed it would be a major upset. A Maduro victory was more likely not only because of the sympathy vote for the late Chávez. The chavistas have been using state power to cheat, intimidate and spend themselves first across the finish line for more than a decade. International observers were prohibited from sending missions to Venezuela and Mr. Capriles was denied access to almost all television and radio stations during the campaign.

Good luck with that recount, Señor Capriles.

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