Chávez was elected president in 1998, hailed by the country’s long-excluded underclass for focusing on the poor with new social safety nets. He also emerged as the most vociferous critic of US policy and politicians – once referring to former President George W. Bush as the devil – leading a radical leftist movement with like-minded countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador.
He has easily held onto power for the past 13 years, but now he faces the biggest political test of his career. Polls still put Chávez ahead of his rival by some 10 to 20 points, but large numbers of undecided voters could bring surprises to the contest. Mr. Capriles has promised to maintain the social programs that have been the cornerstone of Chávez's presidency, but he does offer a fundamentally different foreign policy – one that would be felt across Central and South America.
In his official platform Chávez describes his position, which states that Venezuela’s role is to contribute to a new international geopolitical landscape where there are multiple leaders working together to “achieve the balance of the universe to ensure world peace,” according to the official document.
Oil has been the underpinning of both Chávez's social and foreign policy, and Oscar Quiroz Serrano, petroleum adviser to the president of the Central Bank of Venezuela, says that won’t change if Chávez is reelected. Such aid is critical to a “regional project,” he says, “as a way to create regional integration [and] overcome the plundering supported by an encompassing globalization.”