Hugo Pérez Hernaíz and David Smilde

Venezuelans will again head to the polls on December 16, this time to elect governors. Pro-government candidates hope to ride on the wave of Chávez’s victory in October. They can also count on the proven mobilization machine of the Socialist Party (PSUV). But in regional elections, local dynamics can have an important impact and pro-government forces will be divided among two or more candidates in several states. Also, some PSUV candidates face criticism as outsiders imposed by Chávez and are not supported by local activists.

The opposition coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) is still struggling to overcome the disillusionment of its followers after the expectations they raised were dashed in the October presidential elections. As in the presidential elections the opposition is again denouncing government ventajismo. They point to PSUV challengers inaugurating local public works projects carried out by the national government. The opposition is trumpeting that most of its candidates were chosen in open primaries in February, whereas the PSUV candidates were appointed by Chávez.

In contrast to the presidential elections, this time President Chávez´s health has come back into question. At the end of November he traveled to Cuba for treatment. This not only raises the question of succession but means he might not be an effective campaign presence for his candidates.

In the following we look at the races state by state. First we look at “races to watch,” which are those states where the results of previous regional elections and the recent presidential elections, as well as current dynamics, suggest they could go either way. Then we look at the three states that should be solidly in the opposition camp. Finally we review the numerous, primarily rural, states that should go pro-government. Trustworthy polling is currently not available for most of these elections, so these suggested dynamics should be regarded as orientations, not predictions. Trustworthy polling may become available in the coming weeks so any of these analyses could change before Election Day.

Races to Watch

In all of but one of the states we put in this column, Chávez won the presidential election. However, the vote for Chávez is always higher than the pro-government vote for regional candidates. This is a result of the related dynamics of lower popularity of regional PSUV leaders and lower turnout in regional elections. However, the disillusionment of the opposition could reduce their ability to take advantage of the opportunity.


  • Current government: Movimiento Progresista de Venezuela, opposition
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 53.61%. Capriles 45.45%

Amazonas is one of the least populated states with less than a 100,000 voters. Current governor Liborio Guarulla, was elected with the Patria Para Todos party as a Chávez supporter but has since moved to the opposition. He is running as the MUD candidate, but without the support of Acción Democratica who is fielding its own candidate, Magno Barros. For the PSUV the candidate is Nicia Maldonado. But Amazonas is one of the states in which a reassertive Communist Party (it nationally obtained more than half a million votes in the Presidential elections of October), has decided to propose its own candidate different form the PSUV: Gregorio Mirabal.


  • Current government: PSUV (pro-government)
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 51.58%. Capriles 47.65%

The two main candidates are both National Assembly representatives. For the PSUV Aristóbulo Istúriz, is a well known national leader of the party. Iztúriz was chosen by Chávez as a substitute for current PSUV governor Tarek William Saab who is highly unpopular and has been blamed for the PSUV’s poor showing in the 2010 legislative elections. Istúriz is a high profile candidate but not from Anzoategui. For the MUD the candidate is Antonio Barreto Sira, a local politician and National Assembly representative for Anzoátegui. He lost the regional elections in 2004 against current Governor Tarek William Saab.


  • Current government: PSUV
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 58.61%. Capriles 40.77%

This has traditionally been a pro-government state, however current PSUV Governor Rafael Isea is highly unpopular and accused of corruption and mismanagement. The two main cities, Maracay and La Victoria form the main corridor of agro-industry where labor conflicts have been significant. Chávez did not allow Isea to run for reelection but rather named Minister of Interior and Justice Tarek El Aissami as minister. However he is seen as an outsider. The MUD candidate, Richard Mardo is a charismatic local politician and polls show the race to be in a dead heat.


  • Current government: PSUV
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 53.73%. Capriles 45.46%

Bolivar is a state that has long been safely in the pro-government column. However, disarray in the state’s heavy industries-iron, steel, aluminum and derivatives-has hurt the government’s popularity. The incumbent is the PSUV candidate Francisco Rangel Gómez. But there are also several other pro-government candidates that could divide the vote-most importantly among them Manuel Arciniega for the PCV. He has little chance of winning but the PCV has drawn many pro-government voters disaffected from the PSUV. They face a national opposition leader, Andrés Velasquez, ex-governor, National Assembly representative, and presidential candidate.


  • Current government: Proyecto Venezuela, opposition
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 54.59%. Capriles 44.88%

Carabobo is traditionally an opposition stronghold that could be lost this time around with the decreasing popularity of Henrique Salas Feo. He has been governor since 1995 with the exception of the 2004-08 term which he lost in the aftermath of recall referendum and partial opposition boycott of the regional elections. He faces Francisco Ameliach of the PSUV. During a public rally in Carabobo, President Chávez mentioned Ameliach as candidate for governor but part of the crowd began chanting for an alternative candidate–Rafael Lacava, the popular PSUV mayor of Puerto Cabello. Nevertheless, polling leans towards Ameliach.


  • Current government: Avanzada Progresista, opposition
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 51.45%. Capriles 47.75%

Incumbent Henry Falcón was elected in 2008 with 73% of the vote as a PSUV candidate, he is now supported by the MUD. In 2010 he renounced the PSUV and joined the PPT, which at the time was in the process of attempting a “third way” left alternative to Chávez. The results of this initiative in the 2010 regional elections were disappointing for the PPT as they lost ground even in Lara. He later founded his current party the Avanzada Progresista and was Henrique Capriles’ selection for Vice President. The government candidate is Luis Reyes Reyes, who was himself governor before Falcon. The election will be a bellwether for the fate of the PSUV in Lara and for Falcón as a local and potentially national leader.


  • Current government: PSUV
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 48.45%. Capriles 51.09%

Mérida was surprisingly one of only two states that went for Capriles in the presidential elections. The unpopular current PSUV governor Florencio Porras was blamed for this poor showing and was replaced by Alexis Ramírez, ex National Assembly representative is the PSUV candidate. Neverthless, Porras continues with his “revolutionary” candidacy. In mid-November Diosdado Cabello traveled to Mérida to reassure the PSUV militancy that Alexis Ramírez  was its candidate and not Florencio Porras, although he was using pro-government symbols and claiming his loyalty to Chávez. The MUD’s candidate is the popular Mayor of the city of Mérida, Léster Rodríguez.


  • Current government: opposition
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 58.35%. Capriles 40.94%

Monagas is one of the most difficult states to predict because of the situation of current governor Jose Gregorio “El Gato” Briceño. Briceño is the popular incumbent; he was pro-government but recently broke with Chávez and sided with the opposition over the government’s inadequate response to a local oil spill. Before Briceño’s break with the Chávez government, the MUD had elected in primaries Soraya Henández as its candidate for Governor, and the opposition still supports Henández. The PSUV candidate is Yelitze Santaella who could be favored from the opposition division between Briceño and Hernández. However a recent poll indicates that division produced by El Gato could be cutting both ways, among pro-government and opposition voters, and that he might still win without PSUV or MUD support.

Nueva Esparta 

  • Current government: opposition
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 51.02%. Capriles 48.45%

Chávez won the presidential elections in this state but the two term incumbent is MUD candidate Morel Rodríguez Ávila, a former militant of Acción Democrática who now claims to be independent. He is a long time local politician. The PSUV candidate is the ex-Defense Minister Carlos Mata Figueroa, a native of the state but with no political experience. Nueva Esparta is a state in which voter mobilization will be crucial, therefore both candidates have been busy working on their election day strategies.


  • Current government: PSUV
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 60.23%. Capriles 39.21%

Although a strongly pro-government State, PSUV support is divided between the official PSUV candidate Luis Acuña (ex-Minister of Higher Education) and a local activist Félix Rodriguez, who claims support from the base. Acuña is considered the author of a proposal of reform of the Law of Higher Education that was strongly protested by the opposition and vetoed by Chávez. He was later removed from the ministerial post. MUD candidate Hernán Núñez is an opposition representative to the National Assembly and local leader of the party Voluntad Popular. He is said to have worked hard on the mobilization machinery of that party in the region.

Likely Opposition


  • Current government: Primero Justicia (opposition)
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 49.96%. Capriles 49.52%

This is a crucial race for the opposition, since the incumbent is former presidential candidate Capriles Radonski. Miranda is an opposition stronghold. Chávez narrowly defeated Capriles in the presidential elections here, but it is unlikely that PSUV candidate is Elías Jaua will hold all of Chávez’s support. Jaua has been Vice-president and held several government cabinet posts and is popular with the leftist base. However he is uncharismatic and unappealing outside of the Chávez base.


  • Current government: COPEI (opposition)
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 43.29%. Capriles 56.24%

Táchira is an opposition stronghold but could be threatened by a divided candidacy. The incumbent and candidate for the MUD is the COPEI leader Cesar Pérez Vivas, who was elected as candidate in primaries. However, ex-mayor of San Cristobal, William Mendez, has also registered his candidacy for the opposition. The original candidate for the PSUV was Tareck El Aissami, but after the presidential elections was changed for José Vielma Mora, who is the ex-director of SENIAT and perceived as an efficient public official.


  • Current government: Un Nuevo Tiempo (opposition)
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 53.34%. Capriles 46.27%

Zulia is Venezuela’s most populous state, containing around 14% of the electorate, and has traditionally been an opposition bastion. Chávez won in October, but in the last 12 years Zulia has consistently elected opposition governors. The two main contenders are Pablo Pérez and Francisco Arias Cárdenas. Pablo Pérez is the MUD representative and the head of the regional social democratic leaning party Un Nuevo Tiempo. He was the main contender with Capriles for the opposition primaries. Francisco Arias is one of the original companions of Chávez in his failed coup of 1991. He was a pro-Chávez governor of Zulia from 1995-2000. He then opposed Chávez for some time and was even opposition candidate for President in 2000. He later reconciled with Chávez and is now a leading member of PSUV.

Likely Pro-government


  • Current government:  PSUV
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 66.09%. Capriles 33.20%

Incumbent Ramón Carrizález is the PSUV candidate. He has held several ministerial posts with Chávez and was his Vice-president for two years. However there is a second pro-government but anti-PSUV candidacy: Jesús Leopoldo Estrada, mayor of the city of Elorza. The opposition has a unity candidate: Luis Lippa, an ex-militant of Acción Democrática, who has already been governor of this heavily pro-government State: in 2000 he was favored by a previous division between pro-government candidates and became governor.


  • Current government: PSUV
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 59.23%. Capriles 40.15%

Barinas is portrayed by the opposition as Chávez´s fiefdom because family members have occupied the governorship during the entire Chávez era. Chávez’s father Hugo de los Reyes Chávez was governor from 1998 to 2008 and his brother Adán Chávez was elected in 2008. Adán is close to the President and his ideological mentor. He is the PSUV candidate for reelection. The MUD will be supporting a dissident from the government, Julio César Reyes. He was elected as pro-government mayor of Barinas in 2000 and reelected in 2004, but in 2008 he broke with the government because of the imposition of Adán Chávez as candidate. He was then elected in 2010 as representative to the National Assembly, this time with the support of the opposition.


  • Current government: PSUV
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 63.31%. Capriles 33.94%.

The PSUV candidate for this solidly pro-government State is Erika Farias, who has held several official national posts, most recently as the head of the Ministry of Communes. She is considered a radical and a strong supporter of the idea of the Communal State. Alberto Galíndez, a local politician, won the candidacy for the MUD in primaries. He was elected Governor of the State in 1995-2000. Cojedes is a solid pro-government State, but Farias is considered an outsider (she was elected National Assembly for the State in 2010, but she did not sit in the Assembly because she was called to serve in Chávez´s cabinet), imposed by Chávez and with little charisma.

Delta Amacuro 

  • Current government: PSUV
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 66.84%. Capriles 32.23%

Lightly populated, heavily indigenous Delta Amacuro is a pro-government stronghold. The PSUV candidate is the incumbent Lizeta Hernández Abchi. The MUD candidate is the MAS militant and local politician Arévalo Salazar. There should be no surprises in this State as Hernández is popular and has the backing of all the pro-government parties.


  • Current government: PSUV
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 59.87%. Capriles 39.45%

The MUD candidate is the National Assembly representative Gregorio Graterol. The official PSUV candidate is the incumbent Stella Lugo Montilla. The pro-government vote could be divided because of the candidacy of the ex-mayor of the city of Coro, Rodriguez León. He is currently in prison accused of a disappearance occurred in 2003 when he was head of the local police.


  • Current government: PSUV
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 64.31%. Capriles 34.97%

The PSUV candidate, Ramón Rodriguez Chacín, is a retired naval officer. He is one of the original companions of Chávez in his failed coup of 1992. He then served under Chávez as Interior Minister. Human rights organizations accuse him of human rights violations during his military service, before Chávez came to power. Guárico is a pro-government State that has never seen an opposition governor. The MUD candidate is a Fedecamaras ex-president and currently a National Assembly representative, José Manuel González. He claims to be independent but was a long time militant of Acción Democrática. Guárico was once a bastion of Acción Democrática which had a formidable electoral machine in the State, but which is now a minority party.


  • Current government: PSUV
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 70.89%. Capriles 28.33%

The incumbent for the PSUV is Castro Soteldo who will most likely win in this pro-government State. Portuguesa, however, is another state in which the PCV is putting forward its own candidate: Oswaldo Zerpa. The opposition candidate is ex State governor and currently National Assembly representative, Iván Colmenares.


  • Current government: PSUV
  • Chávez 64.10%. Capriles 35.40%

Hugo Cabezas was the original PSUV candidate proposed by Chávez, but rejected by the base (during the Presidential campaign in a public rally Chávez proclaimed Cabezas as his candidate but was loudly rejected by the crowd). He has been substituted in October by General Henry Rangel Silva, the same General that made the polemical declarations concerning the “Chavista” character of the armed forces. The opposition has denounced that the change of candidacy was done, and accepted by the CNE, after the deadline. The opposition candidate for the MUD is José Hernandez, a popular radio host with no previous political experience.


  • Current government: PSUV
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 61.47%. Capriles 37.86%

Vargas is the coastal state containing Caracas’s port and airport. The opposition has never won governor elections in Vargas. General Jorge Luis García Carneiro is the incumbent and PSUV candidate. He is being challenged, however, by Cristián González, who presented his candidacy as that of the “Chavista basis.” José Manuel Olivares is the opposition candidate for the MUD.


  • Current government: PSUV
  • Presidential vote: Chávez 59.99%. Capriles 39.32%

The incumbent is the PSUV candidate Julio Leon Heredia. For the opposition the candidate is a National Assembly representative for the party Convergencia: Biagio Pilieri. Convergencia was the party of ex-president Rafael Caldera and traditionally had strong regional support in Yaracuy.