BREAKING: According to the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias was reelected for another 6-year presidential term in Venezuela, after beating challenger Henrique Capriles 54% to 44%.
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This Sunday, Venezuelans go to the polls to reelect (or not) President Hugo Chavez Frías after a 14-year presidency marked as much by a reduction in poverty levels as by rampant crime and the highest inflation rate in Latin America.
Chavez's challenger, 40-year-old lawyer and former governor of the populous state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles Radonski, has gained popular support by pledging to keep Chavez's social programs while spurring the private sector economic growth he says Chavez has crushed with his statist revolution (with decaying infrastructure and scarcity of goods as byproducts in this oil-rich country).
Despite a year-long battle with cancer, and a decrease in popular support amid the perception that he cares more about foreign countries (Chavez gives away oil to Cuba and builds soccer stadiums in Bolivia), El Presidente's supports remain strong especially among the poor masses of Caracas' slums and the country's rural zones.
Capriles, on the other hand, has gained support among the urban youth and educated professionals who feel Chavez has squandered Venezuela's oil boom (the country produces about 2.5 million barrels of oil a day and has certified reserves which are larger than Saudi Arabia's) failing to make this South American country of 20 million a regional economic superpower a la Brazil.
Part of Capriles' success is the fact that what used to be a fragmented opposition (the "Unidad Democratica" unwisely boycotted the 2000 election and failed to offer a clear alternative in the 2006 one) has solidly rallied behind the popular and charismatic young leader who became a lawmaker at 25 and never has lost an election.
Though the candidates didn't debate and often avoided referencing each other by name, both officially closed frantic campaigns in downtown Caracas this weekend. Capriles, following the playbook that elected Chavez in 1998, visited virtually every state and town in the country in massive, energetic and sweaty rallies where he vowed to unite Venezuelans as opposed to divide them along ideological lines. Chavez relied on televised speeches and state media appearances, which fueled rumors about his health and ability to run a campaign and govern the country for another 6 years — if elected. A couple of official polls put Chavez on the lead by a 10-point margin, but other surveys from independent pollsters have declared the race a dead heat.
PolicyMic will be providing live updates throughout the day and until the polls close and a winner is declared. Bookmark this page and refresh often to find the exclusive information from reporters on the ground.
Live Feed in Spanish from Globovision:
Precincts Counted: 90%
Voter Turnout: 80%
Hugo Chavez: 54.42% (7,444,082 votes) **winner**
Henrique Capriles: 44.97% (6,151,544)
10:05 pm: The Consejo Nacional Electoral will issue its first statement in 30 or 40 minutes. Official statements from both campaigns are also on their way.
9:44 pm: Given that Tibisay Lucena from the Consejo Nacional Electoral, the electoral authority, is already congregating with members from both parties as well as the national international press, a first announcement may be coming sooner rather than later.
9:09 pm: According to Spanish daily ABC, first exit polls would put Henrique Capriles in the lead. However, official numbers haven't been released yet.
8:45 pm: Jorge Rodriguez, Hugo Chavez's campaign manager, held a press conference from "Comando Carabobo's" headquarters and called on Venezuelans to keep waiting with calm and civility. Though Rodriguez reiterated Chavez would accept the results regardless of who wins, he said he had the feeling "we will be seeing you soon with joyful news."
8:10 pm: Officials estimate today's voter turnout could exceed the 70% mark. We're still waiting for the first official results.
7:33 pm: Tibisay Lucena, chief of the Consejo Nacional Electoral, told the media that there are still Venezuelans voting at this time, though the polls that have already closed must start counting the votes soon. Lucena highlighted ther process has been "joyful and calm."
7:04 pm: Though it's already pass the official time polls should have closed in Venezuela, "Operation Tortoise" and technical failures in some polling centers have delayed the process leaving voters strand in line for hours. Meanwhile, Colombian daily El Tiempo is already analyzing tomorrow's potential scenarios in Venezuela if the vote count is close enough that both Chavez and his opposition claim victory. "We believe that a Capriles win will be recognized by the military," El Tiempo says. If not, we would be talking about an actual coup d'état against eventual President Capriles," it added.
6:45 pm: A seemingly conciliatory Chavez held a press conference this afternoon against the backdrop of the Consejo Nacional Electoral, the country's electoral authority. Chavez stressed the nature of the "democratic" process and insisted Venezuela was a "maturing democracy." The strongman said the Venezuelan people was giving politicians a lesson and in a rare instance recognized "all the political leaders from different sectors" who "should respect the will of the people."
6:09 pm: Chavez's challenger Henrique Capriles held a press conference after voting this afternoon. The former governor of Miranda state said that though the polls are scheduled to close at 6:00 pm (local time) they should remain opened until every single Venezuelan regardless of his or her political affiliation is done voting. He added that once the polls are closed the first results should be revealed after a couple of hours or so. Capriles said he'd respect the results whatever they may be, and so did Chavez.
5:23 pm: Many voters have taken to Twitter to denounce what they call "Operación Tortuga" (Operation Tortoise), or the deliberate attempt by polling stations personnel to work extremely slow, delaying the process and prolonging the wait for voters. "We've waited 14 years for this moment, " said a Venezuelan tweep. "So even if we have to wait 14 hours to cast our vote, it'll be worth it," he added. The polls close at 6:00 pm (local time) but the first results aren't expected until early Monday morning. It is expected they'll be released by official media, likely through a television broadcast as the web page of the Consejo Nacional Electoral is not updated with the 2012 election.
4:51 pm: Venezuelan Millennials Called to Vote: Regardless of country, younger voters seem to be the ones who go to the polls the latest (if they go at all). That's why Roberto Patiño, of "La Fuerza Joven" (The Youth Force), the opposition's youth vote organization, called on all Venezuelan millennials to go to the polls and vote in this important election.
4:12 pm: Venezuelans at home and abroad are taking to Twitter to proudly show their purple-inked pinky fingers as proof that they've already voted in this crucial election. Here, some of the images:
3:35 pm: While showing himself optimistc about the opposition's prospects ("tomorrow we will have one, united Venezuela"), Henrique Capriles warned that the election in which authoritarian President Hugo Chavez is seeking a new 6-year term after 14 years in power lacks international observers.
3:12 pm: Capriles Votes: Henrique Capriles, Chavez's presidential challenger, voted at 2:30 pm in Santo Tomás de Villanueva, a school in Caracas. The candidate urged "patience" to voters who have experienced delayed in the process optimistically adding, "the future of Venezuela is worth it."
2:30 pm: Capriles' Shoes: Henrique Capriles Radonski, Hugo Chavez's challenger, has worn the same pair of shoes during every election he has run since he was elected for the first time as a congressman at age 25. They're his lucky charm, says Caprile's mom. Capriles (40) never has lost an election before.
2:25 pm: Leopoldo Lopez, a key Capriles surrogate, said the opposition has witnesses in 100% of the voting centers. The assertion was made to try to calm those who think the government may get away with voting fraud or intimidation. Meanwhile, President Chavez, called on all Venezuelans to wait for the results with "democratic maturity." The polls will close at 6:00 pm, or until the last person in line votes.
2:07 pm: Chavez Votes: President Hugo Chavez voted at 1:20 pm at a voting center located in the populous "23 de Enero" (January 23rd) neighborhood in Caracas.
1:46 pm: Defense Minister Henry Rangel Silva said that all had been calm in the morning and he hoped that would continue. He said if any groups try to "disturb order, they should know there is an armed force prepared and equipped and trained... to put down any attempt at disturbances."
Meanwhile, Chavez held an impromptu news conference on Saturday nightwhere he said he hoped no one would try to use the vote to play a "destabilizing game." If they do, he said, "we'll be alert to neutralize them."
1:22 pm: Despite electoral rules that forbid campaigning while voting is underway, some supporters of President Hugo Chavez have been seen wearing the trademark red t-shirt of the regime at some voting polls. Similarly, bikers are roaring the streets of Caracas wearing red t-shirts and flags and chanting, "Chavez won't go."
12:46 pm: The future of the U.S.-Venezuela relations will depend on the results of today's presidential election in the oil-rich South American country. Both countries withdrew their respective ambassadors in 2010, and the relations took a turn for the worst last year when Chavez shut down the Venezuelan consulate in Miami, Florida, which is forcing Venezuelan voters to ride a 14-hour bus trip to New Orleans (or hop on a plane and fly to New York City) in order to vote today. It is expected that if Chavez is reelected, things will remain the same as evidenced by the leader's strong anti-American rhetoric.
10:49 am: Venezuelans continue voting with optimism in a process that so far has been marked by civility and enthusiasm. Rubén Limardo, the London 2012 gold medalist, is seen in the image below:
Another young voter:
And another one ...
10:54 am: Leopoldo Lopez, a key Henrique Capriles surrogate and former opposition presidential candidate, told Venezuelans not to be afraid and come out to polls to vote "with freedom." He added voting is going without major incidents nationally.
10:31 am: A radical group known as Los Tupamaros, which defines itself as Marxist-Leninist and has ties to Venezuelan terrorist Carlos Ilich Ramirez "The Jackal" (who is incarcerated in France), is taking responsibility for the violent graffiti messages covering walls in the streets of Caracas. The messages warn of "violence and bullets" if the opposition doesn't accept a new Chavez's victory. It is unclear if the government has knowledge or ties to this radical movement.
10:28 am: Voters are warning on Twitter that one must wait until the full picture of the candidate loads on the computer screen before selecting and voting, because if the screen is not fully loaded by the time one submits his or her vote this could be voided.
10:07 am: About 100% of the polls are now open in Venezuela where voters lined up outside of stations from as early as 3:00 am. Judging by how long the lines are in most poll centers, the turnout is expected to be high. Meanwhile, Venezuelans who live outside of the country have also gone to the polls in their respective cities and towns.