Venezuela Opposition Marches as Campaign Kicks Off

Venezuela opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski led a march of supporters last night in Caracas to mark today’s formal start to the presidential campaign against Hugo Chavez’s hand-picked successor.

“Can you imagine walking at this hour in Caracas?” Capriles said in comments broadcast on the Globovision network at the end of the march. “This is a fight for the future, for life. God has given us an opportunity to choose between life and death.” Thousands marched in eastern Caracas and 19 states to protest crime and support Capriles’ candidacy.

Venezuela will hold a presidential election April 14 after Chavez, who governed for 14 years, died March 5 from an undisclosed cancer. Capriles’ campaign is focused on inflation and rising crime as he faces acting President Nicolas Maduro in a bid to turn back policies that included the seizure of more than 1,000 companies or their assets since 1999. Maduro has vowed to make fighting crime a top priority if elected.

Venezuela had 3,400 homicides so far this year, Justice and Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said yesterday on state television, adding that Miranda state, where Capriles has served as governor, had 545 of those victims.

Maduro Backing

Homicides rose 23 percent in 2012 to 16,030 from 13,080 in 2010, according to a report Maduro presented to the National Assembly Feb. 28.

The Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a non-governmental organization, puts the number higher, estimating 21,692 people, or 59 people a day, were murdered in 2012. The murder rate of 73 per 100,000 inhabitants is the highest in South America. In the U.S., it was five per 100,000 in 2009.

Chavez defeated Capriles by 11 percentage points in an election in October. Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva endorsed Maduro in a video broadcast yesterday by Venezuelan state television and posted on Maduro’s campaign website. In the video, Lula says Maduro shares Chavez’s vision and can fulfill it.

“I don’t want to interfere in Venezuela’s internal affairs, but I can’t not give my testimony in the name of the future of this country so beloved by the Brazilian people,” Lula said. “A phrase sums up everything that I feel: Maduro president, the Venezuela that Chavez dreamt.”

Maria Gabriela Chavez, the daughter of the late president, added her support for Maduro in a message on her Twitter account. “The campaign kicks off. Let’s win next to Nicolas, for our giant, for our beloved homeland,” Maria Gabriela said today.

Military, ‘Suspicion’

Maduro began his campaign today in Barinas, Chavez’s home state, where he visited the house where Chavez was born and pledged to fulfill his legacy.

Venezuela’s military should remain neutral during the campaign and not aid the government, Capriles said yesterday on the Globovision network. The country’s opposition received a letter from members of the armed forces saying the military planned to transport people using army vehicles so they can vote for Maduro, he said.

Capriles said he has talked with an active military officer he would appoint as defense minister if he wins the election. Capriles also said he would make Cuba pay for the oil it receives from Venezuela if he wins.

“That night march generates suspicion,” National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, head of Chavez’s party, said yesterday on state television, adding that the letter from the military was a fake. “What are they looking for? An extraordinary event to lift a candidacy that can’t be lifted?”

Polls, ‘Context’

Maduro has 53.1 percent support against 35.6 percent for Capriles, Jorge Rodriguez, head of Maduro’s campaign, said March 26, citing a Datanalisis poll he said ended March 23.

The acting president has 55 percent support against 35 percent for Capriles in a poll covering the last two months, Caracas-based polling firm Hinterlaces said yesterday in a survey sent by e-mail. The poll of 1,100 people was carried out between February and March and has a margin of error of 3 percent.

The candidates should avoid “irritating the electoral environment” given the country’s “delicate emotional context,” Tibisay Lucena, head of the electoral council, said yesterday in comments on state television. Campaigns are prohibited from contacting voters by mobile phone other than by way of text messages, Lucena said.

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