World Leaders: Breaks in the Ranks

More drama ahead in Venezuela's long-running political soap opera: after nearly nine years in office, radical leftist President Hugo Chávez is facing his strongest opposition in years and possibly his first-ever electoral defeat. Already, tens of thousands of students have hit the streets to protest the president's policies, and together with former Chávez allies like Raúl Baduel—the general who helped restore Chávez to power after a 2002 coup attempt—they are reshaping the political landscape. Venezuelans who once would have made excuses for the president are now criticizing him directly. Polls show voters are likely to reject a sweeping constitutional reform that would remove presidential term limits.

At the heart of this ruptura afectiva—the crack in the almost religious bond between Chávez and his followers—is a political agenda that no longer resonates. Chávez's claims to be working for the poor are wearing thin when inflation is 17 percent and residents must queue for hours to buy groceries. Meantime, crime rates are soaring in the barrios. Another source of strife: his decision to shut down the main opposition TV channel, which he presented as a victory over "oligarchs." To many, including his own supporters in the barrios, it means they can no longer see their favorite telenovelas after a hard workday. They head to the polls Dec. 2. Stay tuned.