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Chavez Wins Venezuela Election Convincingly

From Times Wire Services

Former Lt. Col. Hugo Chavez, who staged a failed bloody coup six years ago, was elected president of Venezuela on Sunday--a stunning blow to the political and economic establishment that has ruled the country during 40 years of democracy.

People poured into the streets, dancing, setting off fireworks and honking horns in celebration of what many viewed as a victory of the poor over a political elite that has failed to ease poverty and control rampant corruption.

“Venezuela is being born again,” Chavez declared as the results were revealed. “Once again, the people of Simon Bolivar have shown themselves to be a grand people.”

With 78% of the vote counted, Chavez had 56%, compared with 40% for Yale-educated businessman Henrique Salas Romer, according to official results from the National Electoral Council.

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“I want to say to all Venezuelans that not only do I accept my adversary’s victory, I also wish him much luck because his luck is Venezuela’s luck,” Salas said at his campaign headquarters in Caracas.

Chavez, who will assume the presidency Feb. 2, immediately appealed for national “reconciliation” and sought to assure investors that he will pursue prudent economic policies. He said he will not impose exchange controls or other radical economic measures, as his opponents have claimed.

Aware that financial markets nervously viewed his populist platform, he stressed that his government will honor its foreign debt commitments, slash the public sector payroll and clamp down on tax evasion.

“We will have to take tough measures. . . . All Venezuelans know that it’s going to cost us a lot to get out of the hole we are in,” he said.

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While promising to raise wages and create new jobs through agricultural and industrial programs, Chavez denied that he had raised the expectations of Venezuela’s poor too much.

“I think the Venezuelan people will have the wisdom to realize that there are no magical solutions,” he said.

And underlining one of his main campaign pledges, he promised to be “implacable with corruption wherever it occurs. . . .”

“We are going to instill confidence, and that’s my first message to investors,” Chavez said. “You the investor, if you have capital abroad, bring it here.”

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For the first time, neither of Venezuela’s two traditional parties fielded candidates. In an effort to head off a Chavez victory, the center-left Democratic Action and the center-right COPEI dumped their respective candidates during the past week and threw their support to Salas.

“Nothing like these elections has happened in Venezuela’s political history,” U.S. Ambassador John Maisto said.

Chavez’s leftist Patriotic Pole coalition won a plurality of Congress in Nov. 8 regional elections, breaking the two traditional parties’ 40-year political stranglehold.


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