Chávez says election rival and Romney want to subjugate Venezuela
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez compared his election rival to "far-right" US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, saying both men wanted to subjugate the country under capitalism and crush his socialist "revolution."
South America's top oil exporter will hold its ballot on October 7, a month before the November 6 US election. Chávez is in full campaign mode, aiming for a new six-year term and saying he is fit and well after three cancer operations in the past year.
The two electoral races bumped against each other last week when President Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Romney, sparred over the risk posed by Chavez, and the Venezuelan leader sought to soften his radical image a touch by saying Obama was a "good guy."
Holding forth at a large rally in the western city of Maracaibo where he sang and pretended to play the guitar with a band, Chavez said opposition candidate Henrique Capriles resembled Romney, who hopes to replace Obama in the White House.
"What could better explain his program?" he asked. "Maybe it's the far-right candidate in North America, Romney. It's their plan. Their plan is to subjugate Venezuela again to the service of imperialism, of capitalism."
Chavez, 57, faces the toughest political challenge of his 14 years in power at October's election, and his fate has big consequences for many South and Central American nations that benefit from the former soldier's oil-fuelled largesse.
His illness has limited his on-the-street campaigning, but he has kept a double-digit lead in most polls, thanks largely to big welfare spending and the emotional connection that even fierce critics concede he shares with Venezuela's poor majority.
Since easily winning the opposition's primaries in February, Capriles, a 40-year-old state governor, has kept up a punishing schedule of "house-by-house" campaign visits across the country.
He says his offer to set up a Brazilian-style administration that would be market-friendly but remain committed to social spending is being well received nationwide, that the polls are unreliable and that his efforts will pay off on election day.