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Chavez's Venezuela "red, really, red" after vote

Written by: Staff
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CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec 4 (Reuters) President Hugo Chavez painted Venezuela the ''red, really, red'' of his anti-US socialist revolution, sweeping to re-election in yesterday's vote with wins in every state in the OPEC heavyweight.

National opposition newspaper El Universal displayed a map on its front page today depicting his political movement's color red as a wave across all of the Caribbean nation.

Polling above 60 per cent of the vote and 20 points more than his united opposition rival, Chavez said his win was a blow to U.S.

President George W Bush who sees the Cuba and Iran ally as a threat to regional democracy and stability.

Chavez, 52 and in office since 1998, now has a strong mandate to press his socialist reforms, including land confiscations and increased state control over the oil industry, and to seek to forge an anti-US front in Latin America.

Smooth voting and a quick concession by the opposition defied many Venezuelans' fears of post-vote chaos over a contested election and helps provide a stable political backdrop for investments in a booming economy.

But politics are unlikely to be tame.

Chavez acknowledges he thrives on confrontation and he is still loathed among many in the middle- and upper-classes who consider him a buffoon and dictator-in-the-making.

Chavez, the fourth Latin American leftist to win a presidential election in the last five weeks, has vowed to use his mandate to scrap presidential term limits and create a single party out of the array of groups that support him -- which he would hope would lead in power for decades.

Critics, including Washington, fear the man known as El Comandante will be emboldened to intensify his buying of arms and influence with an oil bonanza from high prices in one of the world's top crude exporters.

Opposition daily El Nacional spread a photograph over its front page of the barrel-chested former paratrooper in his signature open-neck red shirt raising his right fist in the air in a victory salute.

''It is another defeat for the empire of Mr. Danger,'' said the outspoken Chavez, using one of his many insults for Bush that include donkey, drunkard -- and worse.

DELIGHT AND DEPRESSION Streets in polarized Venezuela were quiet today.

Shantytowns were recovering from late-night partying celebrating the victory of a leader who many in the poor majority of the country's population of 27 million idolize for lavishing oil revenue on schools, clinics and food-hand-outs.

There were no celebrations in the upmarket neighborhoods of the capital Caracas, where supporters had hoped opposition candidate Manuel Rosales would stop what they see as Chavez's wasting of oil wealth on populist programs.

Carlos Marval, 44, was worried the president would ignore the demands of the 40 percent of Venezuelans who voted against his leftist drive.

''There's no sense of an integrated country with us all moving forward together,'' the computer technician said. ''A large part of the middle-class feels marginalized.'' Rosales united the traditionally fragmented opposition and showed there is a solid section of the electorate fearful that Chavez will lead them to communism in the manner of his mentor, Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

While Rosales lacked Chavez's charisma, he ran a disciplined campaign that exposed Venezuelans' anger at rampant crime and at Chavez's increasing control over state institutions like the military and giant state oil company.

Still, much of Rosales's support was due to an anti-Chavez vote rather than passion for an ambiguous platform made up both of populist promises to dole out oil wealth and right-wing policies to loosen government controls over investments And with no national elections on the horizon for years, it is unclear if Rosales can keep the traditionally fragmented opposition united.

REUTERS BDP VC2126

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