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Chavez wins third re-election in tightest race yet

By Ian James

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Oct. 7 2012 10:15 p.m. MDT

"There is still a sense in our hearts of wanting a better country," he said.

One pro-Chavez voter, private bodyguard Carlos Julio Silva, said that whatever his faults, Chavez deserved to win for spreading the nation's oil wealth to the poor with free medical care, public housing and other government largess. The country has the world's largest proven oil reserves.

"There is corruption, there's plenty of bureaucracy, but the people have never had a leader who cared about this country," Silva said after voting for Chavez at a school in the Caracas slum of Petare.

At many polling places, voters began lining up hours before polls opened at dawn, some snaking for blocks in the baking Caribbean sun. Some shaded themselves with umbrellas. Vendors grilled meat and some people drank beer.

Chavez's critics say the president has inflamed divisions by labeling his opponents "fascists," ''Yankees" and "neo-Nazis," and it's likely hard for many of his opponents to stomach another six years of the loquacious and conflictive leader.

Some said before the vote that they'd consider leaving the country if Chavez won.

Gino Caso, an auto mechanic, said Chavez is power-hungry and out of touch with problems such as crime. He said his son had been robbed, as had neighboring shops.

"I don't know what planet he lives on," Caso said, gesturing with hands blackened with grease. "He wants to be like Fidel Castro — end up with everything, take control of the country."

Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez, Christopher Toothaker, Jorge Rueda and Vivian Sequera contributed to this report.

Ian James on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ianjamesap

Frank Bajak on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fbajak

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