June 18, 2013
Capriles challenges Maduro to a debate
CARACAS — Venezuela’s opposition leader Henrique Capriles challenged acting President Nicolás Maduro yesterday to “stop lying” and have a debate, adding that he was sorry if he had caused offence during the increasingly bitter run-up to an April 14 election.
The death last week of socialist leader Hugo Chávez set the stage for the vote pitting Maduro, his preferred successor, against Capriles, a 40-year-old centrist state governor.
Capriles has enraged Maduro by accusing him of repeatedly lying about the late president’s two-year battle with cancer, and of then cynically using his death as a campaign tool. But he apologized if he had upset Chávez’s family.
“Let’s debate, Nicolás, the country wants us to. We’ve got a month to do it. Let’s debate crime and the economy... the country wants you to stop lying and debate the problems and their solutions,” Capriles told a local radio station.
“If any word of mine was misunderstood, if any word hurt the feelings of the president’s relatives, forgive me.”
Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader, has said he would consider a debate with Capriles if his opponent retracted his comments and apologized publicly for “the very grave offence” he had given against Chávez’s memory.
“He can attack me all he wants, I don’t care. I’m ready for it,” Maduro said late on Wednesday. “If he apologizes publicly to the family and the people, I would consider having one public debate, or as many debates as the people want.”
Capriles lost a presidential vote to Chávez in October, and two recent opinion polls have given Maduro a solid lead over the Miranda state governor.
At stake in the upcoming election is the future of Chávez’s leftist revolution and the continuation of Venezuelan oil subsidies and other aid crucial to the economies of leftist allies around Latin America, from Cuba to Bolivia.
One of Chávez’s daughters, María Gabriela, published an open letter to the “sick opposition” this week, accusing them of “playing with the pain of a nation and a devastated family.”
Government supporters, who have used racial and homophobic slurs against Capriles, dismissed his contrition.
“The princess has spoken,” former information minister and Maduro campaign member Andrés Izarra said on Twitter. “He wants to debate, but without apologizing. That’s to say, he is a scoundrel and he’s scared.”
In a dramatic twist to the already volatile campaign, Maduro said on Wednesday that there was a plot to kill Capriles by “far right” US elements linked to two senior former members of the George W. Bush administration.
The allegation was similar to the frequent claims of US plots that Chávez made during his 14-year rule.
The two former US officials named by Maduro — Otto Reich and Roger Noriega — called the accusations outrageous and untrue.
Reich was assistant US Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs during former US president George W. Bush’s administration, and after leaving that post in 2004 was succeeded by Noriega.
“It’s completely false. It’s slanderous,” Reich said yesterday.
“And it’s a little worrisome because it makes me wonder what they are creating this smokescreen to hide. I’m not involved... I have not talked to Capriles in years,” Reich said.
On Wednesday, Noriega called Maduro’s accusation “absolute nonsense.”
Herald with Reuters