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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Chavez' Ambitions Challenged

CARACAS, Venezuela — From the hardened slums of this city to some of Venezuela’s most populous and economically important states, many of President Hugo Chávez’s supporters deserted him in regional elections, showing it is possible to challenge him in areas where he was once thought invincible.

The outcome of Sunday’s vote was the second blow dealt to the president in a year, after voters rejected last December his plan to alter the Constitution to give himself more power. Although it was unclear whether the results would slow his Socialist-inspired revolution or check his power, they could complicate his ambitions to amend the Constitution to allow him to run again.

Mr. Chávez, who has been in power for 10 years, has focused on raising political consciousness across disenfranchised parts of society. Now, voters in a sizable part of Venezuela sent him a message that they wanted not a monopoly on power, but solutions to economic and social ills that are glaringly apparent on their streets.

Though Mr. Chávez’s allies won 17 of the 22 states in Sunday’s vote, his opponents did well in some poor urban areas, and in states like Zulia, where much of Venezuela’s oil is produced; Carabobo, the home of auto manufacturers and petrochemical plants; and Táchira, rich in agriculture and cattle. Mr. Chávez framed the elections as a plebiscite on his evolving revolutionary ideology, but voters appeared to focus on more mundane concerns like inflation, which at more than 30 percent is the highest rate in Latin America, and fears that an economic boom might be sputtering to an end as oil prices plunge, forcing Mr. Chávez to reconsider his spending plans.

Read it all here.

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