Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez faces a surprisingly strong challenge from rival candidate Henrique Capriles for the presidential election to be held on October 7.
While the charismatic Socialist leader has been president since 1999, he recently survived a bout with cancer and for the first time in years is considered somewhat vulnerable in the coming election, with some polls showing Capriles to be less than 10 points behind Chavez.
Capriles has used an old-fashioned door-to-door campaign to reach the populace, while Chavez and his supporters have attempted to deride Capriles by accusing him of running a U.S.-style marketing campaign. Chavez has gained much of his popularity in Latin America by his willingness to confront and sometimes embarrass the powerful nation to the North, the United States.
At a rally in Cabimas with tens of thousands of people, Chavez warned Venezuelans that if they elect Capriles, it will set the oil-rich country back “at least 30 years.”
“I haven’t deceived you nor have I failed you,” Chavez said.
For his part, Capriles is linking Chavez nearly 14 year reign with the dictatorships that ruled over Venezuela for years.
“We must defeat Goliath, and each one of you is David. I am David, but each one of you is David too,” he told a rally this week that played his campaign song, “There is a path.”
Capriles is using crime to attack Chavez, saying the country’s high murder rate, 50 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011, is evidence of the president’s poor handling of the country’s crime wave. As if to illustrate his point, violence broke out over the weekend at an opposition rally planned in Barinas, Chavez’s home state. When the road was blocked by government supporters, three men got out of their car’s to get through, but they were fired on by gunmen inside the van. The three of them died from their wounds.
At an enormous rally in Caracas, Capriles said it was “something that should never have happened.
“I want to tell their families, and those angels in heaven, that we are going to defeat violence on 7 October.”
Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said in a Twitter message that a suspect in the killings had already been arrested.
After the killings, Chavez called for calm.
“It’s not with violence that we face off. It’s with votes, ideas, peace, so let’s not fall into provocations,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chavez, in a reminder of his powerful and lucrative connection to Russia, was presented with the gift of a 3-month-old black terrier puppy from Russian President Vladimir Putin to celebrate a trade agreement signed by the two countries worth about $20 billion—including a pact that allows state-controlled Russian oil company Rosneft to tap into new Venezuelan oilfields.
“He is a good dog and beautiful,” Chavez told a Russian delegation at his Venezuelan presidential palace, according to the Associated Press. “I’m going to call him ‘Russian.’”
The breed is also known as “Stalin’s dog” because it was created under the Soviet dictator in the 1950s to guard prisoners.