Caracas watches US vote from afar

Barack Obama's election was unevenly welcomed in Venezuela: Hugo Chavez supporters expressed scepticism over the president-elect's ability to change policies while pro-Americans hoped for renewed relations between the two countries.



Daniel, Marely and friends toasted Obama's victory with Coca-Cola. They'd been in this comfortable flat in the chic Caracas neighbourhood of Altamira since 7am watching election night on CNN. All assembled claimed to be opposed to President Hugo Chávez. Relieved by the outcome of the vote, they said Obama’s election might mean a thawing of  relations between the two countries, which reached a new low in September when Chávez expelled the US ambassador. 


They all feel close to the US, a country in which they have all lived in the past. Under the current administration they have felt cut off from their ally.


Morris, a young lawyer, said: "I think that Obama, as the new president of the United States, is going to normalise the relationship, because President Chávez has already said that Barack Obama can be the light at the end of the tunnel between the two countries."


“On the other hand, the victory of a Democrat in the US might also encourage Chavez in his regional leftist-leader drive.”


Obama steals limelight from Chavez


On Venezuelan TV on election night, Republican candidate John McCain and Obama stole the limelight from Chávez. Globovision, the main opposition channel, hoped the new US president would take more notice of Latin America than did George W. Bush.


"For eight years President Bush totally forgot Latin America,” said the channel’s Julio César Pineda. “He had almost no personal ties with the Latin American presidents outside of the occasional regional summit.

“And on the economic front, there was very little in the way of investment in this region which is traditionally intimately linked to the US."


Socialist co-operative watches from afar


Election night was followed in different ways in Venezuela, depending on political leanings. Concerns at a socialist co-operative in the centre of Caracas were a far cry from those gripping its northern neighbour. Here, the talk was of a new baseball court for the community and local elections on November 23d.

For the people here, all Chávez supporters, “US presidents come and go, but the empire remains”.


“Of course we’re not unhappy Obama won. He’s not as bad as McCain. He’s a coloured man like us and seems nice enough. God willing, he will accept our president’s open hand and will visit Venezuela. He would then realize what we have accomplished with our revolution in the fields of education, housing and how we’ve improved everyday life for our country’s poor.”

"But Obama may not have the ability to really change things. If he follows the same policy as Bush and his business supporters, then things will be difficult,” said Libia Salamanca, a member of the co-operative.


For all their differences, most Venezuelans interviewed expressed hope that Obama's victory could re-open a dialogue between the United States and Latin America.

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