Henrique Capriles Radonski, the main candidate running against Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, views himself as a young David battling the Goliath in the oil-rich country’s October 7 presidential election.
“I have to confront the use of public resources, the whole state apparatus, and even the resources of the state oil company that the president uses for his campaign.” Capriles told Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman.
A lawyer by training and former governor of Miranda state, Capriles, 40, began his political career as the youngest congressman in Venezuela’s history.
|“I come from a working family. My grandparents arrived in Venezuela with nothing. … I worked since I was 11 years old.”
- Henrique Capriles
The descendant of immigrants from Europe, Capriles’ father had Dutch roots while the family on his mother’s side fled Poland after the Holocaust. Capriles’ upper-class family owns major stakes in newspapers, movie theatres and other businesses.
But like political candidates the world over, Capriles tries to focus on his “humble” roots, making promises about reducing poverty and “social inclusion”.
“I come from a working family. My grandparents arrived in Venezuela with nothing. I come from a family that worked hard, and were dedicated to give the best to this country,” Capriles told a local newspaper. “As a child, I learned to push myself to get things. I worked since I was 11 years old.”
Campaigning as a youthful alternative to Chavez, who has been battling cancer, Capriles’ supporters tout his motivation. “He is a person that works 24 hours, 365 days a year,” Adriana D’Elia, the current governor of Miranda state, told Al Jazeera. “It is difficult to keep up with him.”
His detractors consider him a fresh face for Venezuela’s old elite, a politician who acts like a champion of democracy but who is happy to subvert the will of the people when it fits his own ends.
Capriles is accused of participating in a 2002 coup attempt against the country’s elected government. Critics say he was complicit with violent protesters at the Cuban consulate in Baruta, where opposition attackers thought members of Chavez’s inner circle were hiding.
After Chavez foiled the coup with the help of loyal army officers, Capriles was detained for 119 days, but was later released after being absolved in court.
“Unfair jail sentences are twice the burden,” Capriles said on his website.
Prison has had a lasting impact on the candidate, former colleagues said. “I am sure that the experience made him tougher,” said D’Elia, who has known Capriles for more than a decade.
After overcoming his legal problems, Capriles ran for governor of Miranda state in 2008. He unseated governor Diosdado Cabello, who some analysts see as the president’s right-hand man.
|“I am visiting our Venezuela, introducing plans for education, health, security, and [Chavez] cannot deal with those proposals. He appeals to a dirty war, to fear.“
- Henrique Capriles
He compares his political approach to that of former Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, who promoted pro-business policies, while also developing and funding social programmes.
“Capriles’ campaign has been very concrete: he has emphasised the problems of job opportunities, assistance to older people, assistance to those who live in extreme poverty. Education has been also a recurrent topic,” Maria Ponce, a researcher at Andres Bello Catholic University, told Al Jazeera.
But critics say Capriles will reverse the gains in poverty reduction seen under Chavez. On August 23, Chavez leaked a document that he alleged came from the opposition. The document, labelled as “el paquetazo (the package)”, supposedly revealed a hidden agenda that consisted of privatising key industries, decreasing state subsidies for social programmes, and a series of other “neoliberal” measures.
Capriles’ campaign said the documents were forgeries.
In his attempt to distance himself from the traditional opposition, Capriles has consistently said that he wanted to expand social programmes as part of plan to create economic growth with social inclusion.
“As I am visiting our Venezuela, introducing plans for education, health, security, and [Chavez] cannot deal with those proposals. He appeals to a dirty war, to fear, and he is going around saying that there will come a paquetazo,” Capriles told supporters.
Capriles’ campaign slogan is “hay un camino” (there is a way) and he consistently slams Chavez for what he says is corruption and mismanagement.
The candidate has established a platform focusing on employment, education, security and better management of the oil sector. He has promised to train more than 20,000 new police officers and raise the minimum monthly salary to 2,500 bolivars ($581) from the current rate of 2,047 bolivars ($476).
Venezuela is facing one of its most critical moments. On October 7, the country will decide between two starkly different candidates: a charismatic leader who has ruled the country for more than a decade, and a young, energetic lawyer who has never lost an election before.
The above is from Al-Jazeera and is much less enthusiastic about this fighting candidate then much of the reporting in other foreign papers.