Capriles vs Chavez: What's at Stake in Venezuela's Presidential Election

Chávez has also attempted to curb inflation by imposing price controls on a large number of items, such as milk, eggs and even toilet paper. But while such polices help to control prices for certain goods, they have also led to shortages, and they discourage investment from foreign and local companies.

The Venezuelan president has even nationalized large companies in order to improve local supply of certain items. In 2008, for example, several major cement companies were taken over by the government, partly because they were shipping their goods abroad for better prices. But again, moves like this one discourage investment, and they put government finances under constraint.

Federico Barriga, an analyst for The Economist Intelligence Unit, says that under Chávez the Venezuelan economy has been characterized by tight exchange rates that prevent people and companies from taking their money out of the country, high government spending and very low private investment in sectors other than oil.

"What keeps the economy going is that [the government] still produces 3 million barrels of oil per day. They're losing all the private production capacity of the country," Barriga said.

Barriga recognizes that social indicators have improved under Chávez, but says that government programs would be in severe trouble if the price of oil fell, because much of the government's budget comes from oil sales. According to the State Department, oil finances 40 percent of the Venezuelan government's budget revenues, and it accounts for 95 percent of the country's export earnings.

Capriles has promised to facilitate private investment in Venezuela and make it into a country that makes a living by exporting goods other than oil. It is not clear how quickly he would be able to dismantle price controls, as this would be politically unpopular, or to what extent he will be able to cut back on excessive government expenditures.

One thing that his campaign has been adamant about is cutting costly foreign aid projects in countries like Nicaragua and Cuba. This brings us to our next topic.

International Impact

Venezuela only has 28 million people and 19 million voters. But thanks to its oil wealth, and its strategic location the country punches above its weight in the international arena.

Cuba currently gets 100,000 barrels of oil per day from Venezuela at highly subsidized rates, in a deal that is crucial for the island's economy. Leaders of the communist island will closely monitor elections in Venezuela. Venezuela also provides aid to left-wing governments in Bolivia and Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, for example, the Venezuelan government spent $1.6 billion from 2007 to 2010, an investigation by the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Capriles has said he will cut these projects, and instead spend the money on fixing domestic problems, like electricity shortages in Venezuela. Chávez, who once also subsidized heating for impoverished New Yorkers, has expressed no intent to cut back on foreign aid.

"In Chávez's ideology, countries don't exist, what is important, for him is the [political] cause," international analyst Olaguer Chacón told ABC/Univision.

Chacón is a professor at Caracas' Andres Bello University. He reckons that if Capriles where to win the election, Venezuela would be more focused in defending commercial interests abroad through trade deals and in convincing other countries to back its territorial claims in the Caribbean sea.

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