Hugo Chavez's latest appearances, together with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Belarus President Alexandre Lukashenko, were just a warmup for an even more important public show of support: a meeting with former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The importance of Lula's support for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is not to be underestimated. As often happens between neighboring countries, Brazil and Venezuela have a long history of conflict, having experienced a series of commercial and territorial disputes. Lula himself, at the time he was president, would often remind this to Chavez.
And so now we watch Chavez gaining the support of the former Brazilian president, admired for having brought economic growth that helped turn Brazil into the seventh biggest economy in the world -- made even more remarkable because he comes from the left (although we know that in reality his government was more pro-free market and less protective than the previous ones).
This is what Chavez most wanted to exploit: the image of a leftist author of economic miracles. And if we add to this that Lula had cancer and has apparently managed to defeat it, there could be no better model for the Venezuelan leader as he seeks another term in the coming presidential elections.
Perhaps because he wants to be Lula, Chavez hired Brazilian experts in marketing to manage his electoral campaign. Joao Santana, the famously creative brain behind the victories of Lula and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, as well as Ollanta Humala in Peru, is now heading the Venezuelan candidate's campaign.
Thanks to Santana's work, Chavez's message does no longer sound overly patriotic or threatening: It is a message of resurrection; meanwhile, his advisors have lunch with the left and dinner with the right, in the purest "Lula" tradition.
The Venezuelan president also has the express or tacit support of the other left-wing presidents of Latin American countries -- and the global economic difficulties actually manage to help him. The European crisis and the slowdown of the US economy lend weight to the Latin American leftists, who talk for the umpteenth time -- now with certain key pieces evidence -- about a crisis of capitalism.
Time to get serious
Regardless of what happens in Venezuela, the most serious impact of the current European crisis on Latin American countries will perhaps be a growing reluctance to open up economically. Already it is bringing back protectionist tendencies, and the consequences on trade will ultimately slow economic growth in the region.
All the polls are pointing to a Chavez victory, but the margin ranges from 4 to 40 percentage points, depending on who is conducting the survey. These fluctuations make predictions not very reliable, but the fact that none of them gives the victory to his opponent, Henrique Capriles, is certainly a clear sign of where the race stands right now.
The resurrected Chavez has also received the indirect support of Barack Obama. The U.S. president, himself seeking reelection, surprised the whole world a few days ago by saying that Venezuela was not a threat to American national security.
His words might help Chavez clinch the October elections.
Obama must have also considered the fact that, despite the anti-imperialist rhetoric of Chavez, Venezuela still loves the U.S.: Venezuelan imports of American goods and services reached over $5 billion in the first four months of 2012, an increase of 44% over the same period last year.
Governments and companies in Latin America and all over the world will have to admit that, saving any last-minute surprises, the uncomfortable caudillo Hugo Chavez will receive the support of Venezuelan citizens and will remain president for five more years.
During his first 13 years in office, Chavez has managed to maintain his popularity with anti-capitalist speeches and "bread today - hunger tomorrow" policies. In the three-hour speech launching his presidential campaign a few weeks ago, he promised to make socialism irreversible, turn Venezuela into a regional power following Brazil's model and save the planet from capitalism.
No more slogans, Mr. Chavez: You have to get serious. With death knocking at your door, you have six years of grace -- or less -- to leave a legacy for Venezuela that is neither poverty nor civil war.
Read the original article in Spanish
Photo: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR
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