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Capriles Rally Draws Thousands Against Chavez Ahead of Vote

Venezuelan Opposition Candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski
Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski. Photographer: Juan Barreto/AFP/GettyImages

Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski symbolically closed his Caracas campaign against President Hugo Chavez yesterday with a march attended by tens of thousands of supporters.

Capriles, dressed in a shirt styled with the three colors of Venezuela’s flag, promised to confront growing violence in the South American country after he said three supporters were shot and killed over the weekend in Barinas state. He asked voters to judge Chavez’s priorities after 13 years in power and decide if they were happy with their lives today.

“This government gives away resources to every other country,” Capriles said. “There is no gauze in the hospitals here, but they give money away to sponsor samba dancing at the carnival in Rio.”

Capriles, 40, has held large rallies across Venezuela over the past month to close his campaign and build momentum after making house-to-house visits to offer what he described as a message of unity, progress and private investment. He filled the stadium used by Chavez’s favorite baseball team on Sept. 27 in a rally to close his campaign in the central state of Carabobo.

“This has to be one of the largest marches in the history of Caracas,” Capriles said yesterday to a throng filling the length of Bolivar Avenue in downtown Caracas, a symbolic space often used by Chavez for campaign rallies, waving party flags, chanting, dancing to campaign music and blowing vuvuzelas.

Leopoldo Lopez, a member of Capriles’ campaign team, said on the Globovision television network Sept. 28 that he hoped as many as a million people would attend the march. The campaign didn’t provide an estimate on the size of the march afterward.

Three Dead

Shots were fired at a caravan of cars in eastern Barinas state on Sept. 29 when Capriles supporters tried to pass a checkpoint, the Primero Justicia political party said in a statement, adding that the barricade had been set up by “presumed” Chavez supporters.

Police have detained three suspects, the Venezuelan government said yesterday in an e-mailed statement, without providing additional details. Chavez, who spoke at a rally yesterday in western Zulia state, said the incident was “regrettable” and urged his supporters not to fall into “provocations.”

Chavez, who also spoke at a rally on Sept. 29 in central Miranda state, said he himself is one of the biggest critics of his government and that there were reasons for some people to be “discontent.”

Insecurity, Crime

“There have been failures and problems, but what is at stake on Oct. 7 is not about the small or medium problems including water or electricity problems,” said Chavez. “We’ll solve the problems of insecurity and crime.”

Andrea Thadino, who lives in Caracas slum of San Agustin where a cousin was killed by a gunfight three years ago, said she works at a street nail salon because she can’t get a job teaching at a public school after signing a petition against Chavez.

“Despite studying for five years, I have to work as a street vendor to survive,” she said in an interview at yesterday’s march while carrying her 2-year-old son. “I voted for Chavez the first time but not anymore. I think Capriles is a sincere man who is going to make a change.”

Fitness for Office

Capriles, a former governor of Miranda state, has played up his youth and fitness to offer a stark contrast to the condition of his 58-year-old opponent, who is coming off three operations related to an unknown cancer in the past 15 months. He is ahead in several polls while trailing by as much as 15 percentage points in others.

“There are two options here. One we already know and has been in power for 14 years,” Capriles said. “I lead the other option that aims to solve your problems.”

Capriles, who arrived on a truck with “Progress” written on its windshield, said Chavez had dashed the hopes of many Venezuelans.

“There was a lot of hope, wherever you went, there were rivers of people full of hope,” said Capriles, referring to the period after Chavez was first elected. “Almost 14 years later, you be the judge of who is in the process of change and who is sick with power. Because the man in Miraflores defrauded the Venezuelan people.”

After his speech, Capriles hugged his mother and tossed his trademark baseball caps with the Venezuelan colors into the crowd.

Middle Class Votes

Chavez, a self-professed socialist who is traditionally supported by the country’s poor, has spent his final days on campaign trying to attract middle class and rich voters.

“Those with a big house and two or three cars in the garage, a good job, their kids in a good school, the ones who go to the club on Friday night and take their plane to Miami or Margarita Island on Saturday, those people should vote for Chavez,” the former paratrooper said in an interview broadcast yesterday on the Televen television network. “We are the guarantee of tranquility. Think about it well. It’s not for me, it’s for you.”

Armando Briquet, head of the Capriles campaign, said the government is trying to make the vote difficult for the opposition with actions including the closing of Venezuela’s Miami consulate, which will require thousands of voters to travel to the nearest voting center in New Orleans.

“Even with all that, we are going to win by more than 10 percentage points,” Briquet said backstage after the rally, citing the campaign’s polling numbers.

“On Oct. 7, Chavez wins!” Chavez told supporters yesterday in Zulia state. “It will be a grand victory, I don’t have a doubt.”

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