Even within a region justly famous for its magical realism, Venezuela can seem particularly incomprehensible to outsiders. This is a nation of bellicose rhetoric that has not gone to war since its independence, where oil rents are lavished on foreign allies despite obscene domestic poverty, and where fervent baseball fans decked in blue jeans routinely decry the evils of American cultural imperialism. Yet even by Venezuelan standards, the events leading up to the October 7 presidential election have been strange.
First there was the news of President Hugo Chávez's cancer, followed by the reports of his supposedly impending death, which streaked like lightning across international headlines and then seemed to disappear just as quickly. While certainly less vigorous than in previous campaigns, "El Comandante" has remained very much alive, continuing to travel and offering his supporters broadcasts of his trademark multi-hour speeches. Though apparently quite sick with something, the details of his condition and prognosis remain closely guarded state secrets, shrouded in mystery.
And then there's this issue with the polls. Sitting across from me at a small café in downtown Caracas, Carlos Lagorio looks down at his seven-dollar can of Diet Pepsi (inflation and exchange rate controls have driven up import prices) and shrugs. "The truth is," he confesses, "nobody really knows what's going on with the polls. I've never seen this happen."
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