May 21, 2013
Venezuela’s election campaign begins
Accusations and insults fly as Capriles and Maduro register as candidates
CARACAS — Thousands of cheering, crying admirers accompanied President Hugo Chávez’s hand-picked successor yesterday as he officially registered to be a candidate to replace the dead leader, while forcing the main opposition candidate to delay his entry into the race.
The massive crowd thronged acting President Nicolás Maduro and blocked opposition candidate Henrique Capriles from registering for the April 14 vote by the 2pm deadline. The Capriles campaign, which asked for an extension, said in a statement later that he had been registered by another party official.
The election race begun with scathing personal attacks.
“I am not Chávez, but I am his son,” Maduro told thousands of cheering, red-clad supporters as he formally presented his candidacy to the election board.
“I am you, a worker. You and I are Chávez, workers and soldiers of the fatherland,” the former bus-driver and union activist added after the crowd’s emotions were whipped up by recordings of Chávez singing the national anthem.
Thumbing his nose at detractors who scoff at his qualifications, Maduro arrived driving a white bus, waving to supporters. His rally congested downtown Caracas.
Chávez made clear before his fourth and last cancer operation in December that he wanted Maduro, his vice-president and former foreign minister, to be his Socialist Party’s candidate to succeed him if he died. Maduro has vowed to continue the radical policies of Chávez’s 14-year rule in the South American OPEC nation. But Capriles is promising a tough fight.
“Nicolás, I’m not going to give you a free passage... you are not Chávez,‘ Capriles said in a combative speech. He has also accused Maduro of lying to minimize Chávez’s medical condition while he prepared his candidacy.
“Nicolás lied to this country for months,” Capriles said. “You are exploiting someone who is no longer here because you have nothing else to offer the country... I don’t play with death, I don’t play with suffering, like that.”
Government officials said Capriles was playing with fire, offending Chávez’s family and risking legal action by criticizing the handling of his illness and death.
“You can see the disgusting face of the fascist that he is,” a furious Maduro said, alleging that the opposition was trying to stir up violence.
Capriles, a descendant of Polish Jews on his mother’s side, was a victim of racist and homophobic slurs from Chávez supporters last campaign. Maduro appeared to allude to his rival’s sexuality during yesterday’s rally, saying: “I do have a wife, you know? I do like women!”
Though single, Capriles has had various high-profile girlfriends in the past. He scoffs at the personal insults, saying they illustrate the government’s aggressive mindset.
The last remaining television station critical of Venezuela’s government is being sold to an insurance company owner who is on friendly terms with the ruling socialists, its owners announced yesterday, following an unrelenting campaign to financially strangle the broadcaster through regulatory pressure.
The announcement, which civil liberties advocates called a crushing blow to press freedom, comes a month ahead of the crucial elections to replace Hugo Chávez as the opposition accuses the late president’s political heirs of employing multiple violations of the Constitution to gain an unfair advantage.
The editorial line of Globovision is expected to change under new management, employees told reporters off the record yesterday. Many journalists sobbed when informed of the sale, certain some would lose their jobs, said one senior employee.
“We are economically unviable because our income doesn’t cover our expenses. We can’t even raise salaries enough to compensate for inflation,” owner Guillermo Zuloaga wrote in a letter to employees.
The sale will wait until April 14 elections, which Maduro is expected to win.
Herald with AP, Reuters