Venezuela Lurches Leftward

Ex-coup leader Chavez's election victory casts a shadow over U.S. oil supplies.

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CARACAS: Good thing oil is cheap. Six years after he led an abortive military coup, left-wing populist Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela, the largest supplier of oil to the U.S. "U.S. oil companies are worried that Chavez plans to move the country's economy away from free markets," says TIME reporter Christina Hoag. "He's said a lot of contradictory things and nobody knows where he actually stands." The president-elect was certainly not doing much to clarify his plans late Sunday: "In truth, I'm not Chavez," he told reporters. "Chavez is a national feeling; Chavez is a project."

The former coup leader's decisive victory is a sign of widespread popular anger at corruption and poverty in the oil-rich state. "Although he plans a referendum on changing the constitution, his economic policy will have to be more moderate," says Hoag. "Today's reality no longer allows for leftist economics." Washington denied Chavez an entry visa a year ago, but has said it would work with him if elected. After all, Chavez is just a feeling.