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Nicolás Maduro Narrowly Elected President of Venezuela

Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s former interim president and Hugo Chávez’s handpicked successor, has narrowly defeated opposition leader Henrique Capriles to become the president of the oil-rich South American nation of 29.3 million.

Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader who later rose through the ranks of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to become Chávez’s vice president, won 50.7 percent of the vote, with challenger Capriles, the governor of Miranda state and a member of the pro-corporatist Democratic Unity Roundtable party (MUD), getting 49.1 percent of the vote.

The Guardian reports that Capriles said the results of the election may have been manipulated and demanded a vote-by-vote recount. But Maduro declared that the results were irreversible and that no recount would occur. International observers found no evidence of any irregularities in the electoral process.

Accompanied by his wife, his son and various government officials, Maduro delivered a victory speech outside the presidential palace in Caracas on Sunday night. He hailed what he called a new era in the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ began by Chávez, characterized by the raising of the standard of living for Venezuela’s poor through economic redistribution and improvements in health care and education. Maduro said that his victory is proof that Chávez, who died of cancer last month just a few months after being elected to his third consecutive presidential term, “continues to be invincible, that he continues to win battles.”

But it is now Maduro and his government who have tough battles ahead of them. The Economist reports that Venezuela is facing soaring crime rates, inflation predicted to exceed 30 percent this year, food shortages and a possible looming recession, despite the fact that oil, the lifeblood of the national economy, is selling for more than $100 per barrel. Declining foreign currency reserves and increased debt could also threaten the social programs of the Bolivarian Revolution that have won over so many millions of the nation’s poorest citizens.

Maduro also has to worry about relations with the United States. The giant superpower to the north is at once Venezuela’s most important trading partner and an ideological adversary. Washington has long sought to isolate the socialist nation, even going so far as to back a failed military coup against Chávez during the George W. Bush administration. While Washington supports the right-wing regime in neighboring Colombia, home to the worst human rights violations in the Americas, it painted the Chávez regime, which has none of the death squads or civil unrest of Colombia, as a freedom-hating dictatorship.

Maduro is accusing the US of plotting against him.

“There are always problems because they’re always conspiring,” he said, claiming to have undisclosed evidence of a US-backed plot to destabilize Venezuela. The new president insisted that he was ready to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States, which were severed in 2010, “in terms of equality and respect.”

For now, the mood in the streets of many of Venezuela’s cities is one of jubilation, with people partying in the streets, honking car horns and shouting pro-Maduro and pro-Chávez slogans.

“We have to continue with the revolution, with the Missions that have given us health coverage, Mercal [a grocery chain selling subsidized foods] and free housing,” Rosa Castrillo, a mother and homemaker from the impoverished South San Augustin barrio of Caracas, told the Los Angeles Times.

“Before Chávez, we didn’t count,” Castrillo added.

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