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Chavez vs. Capriles: Corruption takes center stage in Venezuela's election

Opposition candidate Capriles expelled his top aide after a film showed him accepting cash from an unknown source. Are corruption accusations enough to push his campaign off track?

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In April, Supreme Court Magistrate Eladio Aponte Aponte sought political asylum in the United States. Mr. Aponte Aponte claimed the Chávez government has ties to drug traffickers and that he was regularly contacted by officials, including the president, to interfere with the outcome of criminal cases.

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President Chávez denied the allegations, saying they were nothing more than “rumors fabricated as part of a psychological war,” referring to Aponte Aponte as a “delinquent” on state television.

Ms. de Freitas laments the lack of transparency in Venezuela’s campaigning and government, noting that the comptroller general’s office lacks funding and personnel. This office is in charge of monitoring government employees, services, and keeping public expenditures in check. According to de Freitas, the comptroller general’s funding has stagnated for the past four years and “is currently operating with 50 percent of the personnel it had in 2000.

“If changes aren’t made corruption will only increase,” de Freitas says.

Familiar faces

While the specific details and origins of the recently released video are still under debate, the government has launched a political offensive linking Caldera’s actions to Capriles and demanding an investigation of his campaign finances.

“We will do everything in the power of the Assembly to investigate this with the utmost consequences,” said Diosdado Cabello Rondón, president of the National Assembly, on state television.

Caldera claimed to be meeting Luis Peña, aide to the Venezuelan Shipping magnate Wilmer Ruperti. Mr. Ruperti entered the national spotlight in 2002 when he helped President Chávez ship gasoline to Venezuelan ports during the 2002-2003 PDVSA state-oil worker strike.

Caldera has assumed full responsibility and insisted the video was set up on purpose to tarnish Capriles’ image.

According to Venezuelan campaign financing rules, private donations are permitted as long as they’re declared to the National Electorate Council at the end of the campaign. “If [Caldera] was receiving the money just for his campaign the act is legal,” explains de Freitas from the anti-corruption NGO.

“We have no way of knowing if Deputy Caldera was going to declare,” she says.

Powerful visuals

“This video is very powerful,” says Mr. Leon from Datanalisis. The government can now present visual evidence to its claims" – that Capriles' business friendly policies mirror former corrupt politicians and are not in the interest of Venezuelans – airing it constantly and “connect[ing] it with ... topics that are in my opinion infinitely more potent."

Given the volatility of the video this late in the election, Leon says, Capriles’ campaign may not be able to overcome the damage. “I don’t think the corruption battle is one the government [will] lose.”

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