Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reiterated his claim that rival Henrique Capriles Radonski is a fascist who belonged to a neo-Nazi group in his youth, days after Capriles asked him to respect his Jewish background.
Chavez, speaking on state television during an electoral rally, said he had proof that Capriles belonged to the “fascist” Catholic group “Tradition, Family and Property.”
“Recently he told me to respect his family. I haven’t disrespected his family,” Chavez said. “What I said was a great truth -- that in his youth he was a member of an organization called ‘Tradition, Family and Property.’ It’s an organization of violent and fascist nature.”
Chavez, who is seeking to extend his 13 years in power in Venezuela with another six-year term in an October election, faces his toughest challenge yet after the opposition united behind a youthful leader following years of bickering.
Capriles, whose family founded the local unit of Nabisco, said Aug. 7 that Chavez should stop making such claims given that his grandparents were assassinated by the Nazis during World War II.
“My grandparents experienced the terror of Nazi concentration camps -- they’re buried in some part of the world after being assassinated by the Nazis,” Capriles said, according to a statement. Chavez “doesn’t have the right to offend my origins -- I’ve never messed with his family.”
Tradition, Family and Property is a worldwide lay Catholic movement that 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.”
The campaign has been marked by insults and incidents of violence. State television channel VTV in February made the same claim against Capriles, saying the group was 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.
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.
The Oct. 7 election will be a choice between 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.
Gunmen riding motorbikes fired into the air during a Capriles campaign stop in a Caracas slum in March, injuring the son of one of his allies.
State media has said its journalists have been threatened and assaulted when covering Capriles’s campaign events.
Chavez, who declines to refer to Capriles by name, preferring instead to call him a “loser,” a “pig” or “the bourgeois candidate,” warned of dire consequences for Venezuela should he lose the elections.
“We irradiate love while the Venezuela bourgeoisie, the Venezuelan right irradiates hate and violence,” Chavez said. “We are the guarantee of stability.”
Opinion polls made public recently have varied widely. Chavez had 45.9 percent support against 45.8 percent for Capriles in a Consultores 21 poll of 1,000 people taken from June 15 to June 26. The survey had a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points. In a June poll by Caracas-based Datanalisis, Chavez had a 15 percentage-point lead.