The opposition backed a youthful candidate this year – Henrique Capriles Radonski – surrounding him with campaigners who were barely out of university when Chávez first burst onto the political scene in 1992.
But the opposition was unable to shed its decade-old image of being right-wing oligarchs with pretensions to dictatorship. That stereotype of the opposition largely comes from a period of instability in 2002 and 2003, when opponents of Chávez mounted a strike in the oil industry, led massive street marches, and briefly ousted the president in a coup.
"The opposition is in shock and retreat," says Francisco Toro of "Caracas Chronicles," an English-language blog about Venezuela. "I don't see people rushing to take the mantle of opposition leader."
Thousands of Chávez opponents flew to Venezuela for yesterday's vote, such as Manuel Ochoa, who has lived in Virginia for 20 years.
"If Chávez wins, it would be painful, but you have to keep fighting," he said before the results were announced.
But for Ms. Paredes, the dessert-maker, and many others in Venezuela, Chávez's victory was in fact a relief. His campaign hammered home the message that his opponent, Mr. Capriles, would eliminate social programs, privatize the country's $120 billion-a-year oil company, and boost transit fares. The fear factor was powerful among voters interviewed on the street yesterday in Caracas, who said they didn't trust the challenger to maintain Chavez's social programs.