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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Capriles: vouching that the tide will turn

Venezuela´s opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles greets supporters during a campaign rally in Guanare, in the state of Portuguesa, yesterday.
By Carolina Barros
For The Herald

CARACAS — “Never seen anything like it,” “Packed with enthusiasm,” “The passion swamped all dimensions,” “All those people,” “He brings us hope,” “We are Venezuela!” Such was the feedback picked up by the Herald among the followers of Henrique Capriles after his massive closing campaign rally in Caracas last Sunday. Four days later, that explosion of passion, joy and hope has yet to die down.

And while it is still blowing in the air, are these not the same winds blowing as in November, 1998, when millions of Venezuelans were latching onto the electoral phenomenon posed by Hugo Chávez?

Even if that resemblance does not guarantee history repeating itself nor assure a Capriles triumph on Sunday, it goes a long way toward explaining the connection which the opposition candidate has established with many voters. How? By harping on the same emotional chords which until now had been a Chávez exclusive.

The supporters of the Unity Panel candidate exultantly say that the “Capriles tide” runs on one motor — the enthusiastic hope of his sympathizers who the candidate listens and embraces. Like Chávez as from 1998. On the other side, the annoyed Boliviarian partisans speak of both the rhetoric and rallies of Capriles imitating Chávez.

This is not a mere question of style. If you listen to what Capriles promises, he plans to maintain central aspects of Chávez social policies such as the education, housing and health “missions,” as well as the Mercal chain which sells basic shopping-basket items at prices within reach of low income income homes.

He was at it again in Zulia yesterday (the state of Venezuela ’s big oil centre of Maracaibo ) where he said that all oil workers would keep their jobs except the current PDVSA state oil company president Rafael Ramírez for having “looted” the resources of the country. His government, he affirmed, would not gift a drop of oil to anybody. PDVSA would continue being “tricolour” (national), better collective bargaining agreements would be discussed and the crude oil would be used to diversify so that the country would cease depending on its fossil fuels.

He further announced that if he won, Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV, the channel of the soap operas which Chávez took off the air when he did not renew its licence) would come back to entertain the masses.

“Capriles realizes that in a country where the lower classes C, D and E number 74 percent of the population, the only paladin of social justice until now has been Chávez, who thus far has always prevailed over an opposition which, while springing to the defence of political freedom, has not been up to representing the interests of the most dispossessed sectors,” Fernando Mires, a philosopher and professor emeritus of the German University of Oldenburg, points out.

“Capriles is not a candidate arising from a circle which one day decided it was time to take a look at the poor,” the sociologist and journalist Jesús Torrealba explains to this newspaper.

“Chávez inspires love in the poor and continues to do so,” Roberto Hernández Montoya, director of Celarg and the Instituto Rómulo Gallegos, tells the Herald. “He recognized the humanity in those which bourgeois liberalism would not recognize as human beings and reduced the extreme poverty of 29 percent in 1999 to the seven percent of today,” Hernández adds before pausing and, seemingly overcome by the mysticism of Chávez rhetoric, sighing: “There is something Christ-like about him.”

Mires also speaks of the “faithful” but from another angle. He believes that the Chávez audience is “transported into a kind of catharsis in those profane masses into which each of his public appearances is converted” because he “appeals to the religious subconscious and even magic (realism) of his people.” And that is why, he concludes, the presidential message, aimed at the poor, is not merely political. While that of Capriles plainly is — “his rhetoric emerges from an encounter between the candidate and the reality that surrounds him.” “Capriles does not speak of changing the world economic order nor of saving the planet nor of wars against the empire. Instead he talks about building roads and bridges, schools and hospitals — everyday issues. Capriles is contributing to taking ideology out of Venezuelan political discourse,” says Mires.

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