Just try sleeping in on Election Day in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela: Trucks blared reveille to awaken voters today as Chavez's crusade to transform Venezuela into a socialist state was put to the stiffest electoral test of his nearly 14 years in power. Later, folk music poured from loudspeakers, mixed with a recording of Chavez's voice saying "those who love the homeland come with me." Chavez's challenger, 40-year-old Henrique Capriles, united the opposition for what has become a contest between two camps that distrust each other so deeply there are concerns whether a close election result will be respected.
The stakes couldn't be higher. If Chavez wins a new six-year term, he gets a free hand to push for an even bigger state role in the economy, further limit dissent, and continue to befriend rivals of the United States. If Capriles wins, a radical foreign policy shift can be expected along with an eventual loosening of state economic controls and an increase in private investment.