Arturo Franco

John Paul Rathbone

President Hugo Chavez (L) and Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles (JUAN BARRETO/AFP/GettyImages)

Henrique Capriles may be the underdog at this Sunday’s Venezuelan presidential election. Yet momentum is building behind the 40-year old candidate and Hugo Chávez, 58, increasingly recognises that. The reason for this is the economy, which for perhaps the first time in Mr Chávez’s 14-year rule has become a contestable issue.

Mr Chávez won power in 1998 promising radical things. And he has since delivered on many of those promises. There is now 100 per cent school enrolment, the number of university graduates has quadrupled, and extreme poverty has fallen – by official figures it has halved. But as Arturo Franco, a fellow at Harvard’s Centre for International Development puts it: at what cost these gains?

Take the World Economic Forum’s annual competitiveness rankings. In 2012, Venezuela slipped two places to 126th out of 144 and is now the region’s worst performer, bar Haiti. On some issues – such as judicial security, trust of politicians, red tape, quality of education and labour rigidities – Venezuela comes last, or nearly last. Not all of this, though, is Mr Chávez’s fault. In the WEF’s 1998 report, Venezuela also came last, or nearly last (although among a smaller sample of 58 countries).