The man who would defeat Hugo Chávez
A young state governor, Henrique Capriles Radonski is the leading candidate to go up against Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez in elections.
After 12 years orchestrating his Bolivarian Revolution, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is preparing to run for a fourth, six-year term in power. But a traditionally disjointed opposition has finally begun to work together to battle for his defeat in this year’s Presidential election.Skip to next paragraph
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To say Mr. Chávez’s tenure has been eventful would be an understatement. He survived a coup attempt which deposed him for 48 hours, an oil strike that virtually stopped all production for more than two months, and – he fancifully claimed – Washington’s attempts to kill him last year by poisoning him with cancer. He also won a victory in overturning term limits, which means he is able to maintain power until defeated at the polls.
Chávez is a formidable foe for the country’s political opposition. His approach to the Venezuelan economy is steeped in oil. He uses profits from the $110 per barrel resource to fund popular social programs, winning deserved favor with the poor. He also owes much of his success to his indelible public relations skills, which resonate with his core support among the poor, and in the early years of his presidency, appealed to the nation’s middle class.
Living with 30 percent inflation, regular power outages, and one of the highest murder rates in the world, however, the middle class has since tired of Chávez. A tough fight lies ahead. The candidate who will take on Chávez in Venezeula’s October Presidential election will be chosen in primaries held on Feb. 12.
Young state governor Henrique Capriles Radonski is likely to take that mantle. He's less known outside the country than his former rival, Leopoldo López, who has spoken out against Chávez on the world stage. Mr. López was set to be the opposition’s frontrunner until the government disqualified him from holding office under a law that many critics say was simply created to stifle those with a chance at challenging the president. Despite that, López was still high in the polls until a couple of weeks ago (Jan. 24) when he stepped out of the race, redirecting his considerable momentum to Mr. Capriles’ campaign. With the support of López, Capriles is expected to win the February primary.
Unlike López and other opposition candidates who are seen as wealthy outsiders by the country’s poor, Capriles has been courting the barrios of Venezuela rather than the boardrooms of the United States, appealing to Chávez’s core support.
“He’s the only one who can penetrate the poor,” says Carlos Romero, a political analyst at the Central University of Venezuela.