Venezuela’s state media has accused opposition presidential nominee Henrique Capriles Radonski of offenses ranging from participating in a Zionist conspiracy to joining a Nazi-inspired effort to wipe out blacks and the poor.
An election on Oct. 7 will be a choice between President Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution and “international Zionism which threatens to destroy the planet,” according to an article published on the website of Radio Nacional de Venezuela a day after Capriles won a Feb. 12 opposition primary.
The attacks, which were condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, are a taste of what’s to come as Chavez faces his biggest challenge yet after 13 years in power, said Carlos Romero, a political analyst at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. Capriles, a descendent of a Jewish immigrant, won the primary by a 34-percentage-point margin over his nearest rival, pushing down bond yields on optimism he may defeat Chavez and introduce market-friendly policies.
“They’re going to do everything possible to obstruct the opposition’s campaign,” Romero said in a phone interview from Caracas.
While the attacks on the 39-year-old governor of Miranda state have increased in intensity since the primary, they began even before it.
On Feb. 10, Mario Silva, host of a late-night debate program aired on state-owned Venezolana de Television, or VTV, accused Capriles of being caught by police performing oral sex in a car with another man in 2000. Silva said Capriles had used his influence to force police to drop indecency charges stemming from the incident.
Piece of Paper
The only support presented for the allegations was a piece of paper that Silva waved in front of the cameras and said was a police report on the incident. Capriles on Feb. 15 denied the allegations and said the police report, which has circulated via e-mail in Venezuela, was false.
When asked whether a police report existed, and if so whether it could be released, the Baruta Police declined to comment.
In a speech on national television Feb. 15, Chavez referred to the unmarried Capriles as “Mrs. Bourgeois.”
Investors reacted positively to the primary. The yield on Venezuela’s benchmark 9.25 percent bonds due in 2027 fell 30 basis points to 11.80 percent, the lowest since April 2010, in New York on the first day of trading after Capriles’ victory. The country’s 5-year credit default swaps fell to the lowest since September 2008.
Chavez’s allies have cast doubt on the validity of the primary, saying the ballot count of 3 million was too high for the voting system to manage in one day.
The Supreme Court on Feb. 14 ordered the opposition alliance to hand over the voter lists to investigate alleged irregularities, sparking concern it would be used by the government to discriminate against participants in the primary by denying them jobs in the public sector. The alliance said it had already burned the registry to protect people’s anonymity.
Chavez won the last presidential election in 2006 against then-Zulia state Governor Manuel Rosales with 63 percent to 37 percent.
Since then, polls show his popularity has fallen as a two- year recession, the fastest inflation in the world, and shortages of basic staples such as milk and cooking oil have beset his administration.
Chavez was supported by 47.3 percent of those surveyed in a December poll by Caracas-based Consultores 21, while an unspecified opposition candidate had 44.9 percent. The poll was published by Barclays Capital in a note to clients Feb. 2 that didn’t say when it was conducted or the margin of error.
Venezuela’s economy grew 4.2 percent in 2011 following two years of contraction while consumer prices climbed 26 percent in January from a year earlier, the fastest pace among 78 economies tracked by Bloomberg.
“The attacks form part of a primitive political strategy to discredit the candidate,” said Colette Capriles, a political analyst at the Simon Bolivar University in Caracas who is a distant relative of the candidate. “The government was surprised by what happened in the primary and is reacting reflexively.”
An article published Feb. 13 on the website of Radio Nacional, titled “The Enemy is Zionism,” linked Capriles with the Jewish nationalist movement because of a meeting he held with members of the Confederation of Israeli Associations of Venezuela, the main umbrella group of the country’s 12,000- strong Jewish community.
Members of CAIV met with all five candidates for the presidential primaries between November and January, according to a statement published on its website, which also has a section dedicated to Zionism. In the meeting with CAIV, Capriles spoke of his family origins and what his policies would be if elected president, according to the statement.
The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, a group that fights against discrimination, said in a Feb. 17 statement that it had written to Chavez to ask him to prevent anti-Semitic attacks on Capriles and “hatemongering” by the Venezuelan state media.
Chavez has angered members of Venezuela’s Jewish community by cultivating ties with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map. Chavez broke off diplomatic relations with the Jewish state in 2009 to protest its military incursion into the Gaza Strip to halt rocket attacks by Hamas, which has been branded a terrorist group by the U.S. and the European Union.
Chavez, who in 2009 called the Israeli government “genocidal,” has repeatedly denied being anti-Semitic. Still, Jewish groups have accused him of inciting violence against Venezuela’s Jews through speeches like one he gave in 2004 comparing the country’s opposition to “wandering Jews.”
Another media report, aired Feb. 13 on state channel VTV, said Capriles was a member of a Catholic group called Tradition, Family and Prosperity, which it described as a “neo-Nazi sect” that sought to assassinate Pope John Paul II and “eliminate blacks, mestizos, communists and the poor.” The report didn’t say what evidence it had to support its claim.
The worldwide lay Catholic movement was started in Brazil in the 1960s to defend against moral threats that, according to the website of its U.S. affiliate, include gay marriage, abortion and Dan Brown’s 2003 bestselling mystery “The Da Vinci Code.”
Calls to Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela went unanswered. Capriles’ press department didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the accusations.
Capriles, whose Jewish grandfather fled Nazi persecution in Poland and founded the local unit of East Hanover, New Jersey- based Nabisco Inc., has responded to the attacks by playing up his Catholic faith, giving thanks for his victory in the primary at a church on Margarita island.
Chavez himself called Capriles in appearances last week on state TV a “low-life pig” and compared him to former French presidential candidate Jean Marie Le Pen, who favors clamping down on immigrants.
Capriles, who has pledged to maintain social programs for the poor and only gradually unwind state control over the economy, is hiding his true political colors in order to capture votes, Chavez said.
“Now Mrs. Bourgeois is going round flirting with the chavista people,” Chavez said in comments broadcast Feb. 15 on state TV. “Who’s going to believe you, bourgeoisie, if we know you so well?”
Attacks on Capriles aren’t new. In 2009, government supporters painted a black-and-red swastika on the wall of his state government headquarters, saying Capriles was trying to dismantle some of Chavez’s social programs in the state, Caracas-based newspaper El Nacional reported.
Capriles has pledged to conduct a non-confrontational campaign.
“It doesn’t bother me because people know I’m an open book,” Capriles said Feb. 15 in comments broadcast on Caracas- based radio station Union Radio. “Let them continue attacking me because the more they do it, the more people join my side.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Charlie Devereux in Caracas at firstname.lastname@example.org.