08 October 2012, Sweetcrude, HOUSTON – OIL-rich Venezuela has re-elected socialist President Hugo Chavez for a further six-year term that will extend his rule of South America’s biggest oil exporter to 20 years.
Chavez won re-election in what analysts say was the best chance by opposition to unseat him in 14 years, although the populist leader saw a narrower margin of victory, Reuters has reported.
He claimed 54% of the vote to Democratic Unity coalition candidate Henrique Capriles’ 50% with 90% of the votes counted, as compared to a 25-point win in 2006.
Cancer treatment saw the president out of the public eye in recent months before re-emerging to fend off rumors he was dying.
Since taking power in 1999, the flamboyant former soldier has become a global flag bearer of “anti-imperialism,” gleefully baiting the US government while befriending leaders from Iran to Belarus whom the West views with suspicion.
Chavez’s win will probably mean more foreign investment from politically allied countries such as China, Russia, Iran and Belarus, while Western investors are more cautious and Wall Street had been hoping for a Capriles win.
Relations with Washington are also likely to remain on edge, though Venezuelan oil has continued to flow to the United States over the years despite the diplomatic tension.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner congratulated Chavez via Twitter on what she termed a win for the entire region.
Analysts say Chavez’s latest win suggests that the activities of state player PDVSA will continue to be highly politicised, with the Socialist leader pouring billions of oil revenues into public programmes since he took power.
Critics say Chavez has hobbled PDVSA with the weight of his government’s financial demands, meaning it has neglected to invest enough in the oil business.
The industry brings in more than 95% of the OPEC nation’s hard currency revenue.
PDVSA produces almost 3 million barrels per day and is thought to boast the biggest crude reserves in the world, but has missed numerous output targets and has suffered a string of sometimes-deadly accidents in recent years.
Following Chavez’s victory, his government will seek to push forward a raft of ambitious joint ventures with foreign partners to tap the oil reserves of the Orinoco extra-heavy crude belt.
Venezuela’s crude production fell in 2010 to its lowest level since a months-long strike at PDVSA a decade ago, and Orinoco is key to the government’s hopes of increasing output by two million barrels per day or more over the next few years.
It has signed deals for projects there with foreign players including Chevron, Repsol, Eni, Reliance Industries and a consortium of Russian companies, including Rosneft and TNK-BP, as part of a targeted investment of $80 billion in the coming years.