Capriles seeks to capitalise on disillusionment with Chávez
Venezuela’s opposition presidential candidate has the momentum to win on Sunday, writes TOM HENNIGANin Caracas
IT IS disappointed former supporters of Hugo Chávez such as Deyjamira Hernandez that has Venezuela’s opposition believing it can win Sunday’s presidential election.
Back in 1998 the sales assistant from one of Caracas’s slums voted for candidate Chávez believing he offered a change from the mismanagement and corruption of the country’s traditional democratic parties. But now, after 13 years of president Chávez, she says she is desperate for a change.
“He had some good ideas originally but things are getting worse,” she says. “I feel deceived. Life has not got any better in our neighbourhood and in many ways it is a lot worse. The lack of security is horrible.”
Following an explosion of violent crime in the last five years, Venezuela now has the fourth highest homicide rate in the world and the highest homicide rate in south America, according to the Criminal Science Institute at the Central University of Venezuela. Much of this violence is concentrated in poorer neighbourhoods, undermining confidence in Chávez’s administration in the very communities that have benefited most from his social programmes.
Attracted by his promises to tackle the problem, Hernandez says she will be voting for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles on Sunday. Though behind in most polls, the former governor of Miranda state has the momentum going into the election, emerging from the campaign as the first significant electoral threat to Chávez since he came to power.
As the race has tightened, a nasty campaign – during which Capriles rallies have been attacked by chavistas – has turned deadly. Three people were killed in a confrontation between two sets of supporters at the weekend.
Chávez has warned of a possible civil war should he lose. If the result of Sunday’s vote is close or disputed by either side, attention will shift to the military. Chávez has frequently declared that the armed forces are “chavista”, leading many in the opposition to worry that they could back the president if he refused to accept defeat.
The man seeking to beat him is a lawyer from a wealthy Caracas family, the grandson of Holocaust survivors. Born into the country’s business elite, Capriles cannot claim to be a man of the people in the same way as his rival – the provincial son of two schoolteachers. And, like most politicians, Capriles lacks the president’s magnetic charisma and skills as a communicator.
But, rather than try to hide such weaknesses, he has sought to turn them to his advantage. While Chávez has indulged his taste for histrionic rhetoric during the campaign, comparing his movement to “the good news of Christ”, Capriles has poked fun at his opponent’s manifesto, which promises to save the planet: “And where is the planning for health, education, jobs?”
Rather than promising to bring “equilibrium to the universe”, Capriles has instead focused on what he will do in the first 100 days of his presidency to end electricity blackouts and tackle the inflation and rising violence that have convinced many that the president’s Bolivarian Revolution has lost its way.
But he has also sought to reassure poorer voters with promises to retain Chávez’s popular social programmes and says he will adopt the “Lula model”, referring to the successful mix of social and business policies of Brazil’s former left-wing president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.