May 22, 2013
Satellite launch stirs passions before Venezuela vote
Venezuela will launch its second satellite on Friday in a move President Hugo Chávez says highlights the achievements of his self-styled revolution ahead of an election, but which his rival says underscores his neglect of problems closer to home.
It is a close race with just nine days to go before the vote in South America's biggest oil exporter. Both sides are planning huge rallies next week to close their campaigns, as well as making last-ditch efforts to win over undecided voters.
Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles says Chávez is focused on spreading his socialist project around the world - and has done little to address the daily problems of Venezuelans such as crime.
The "Miranda Satellite," which will be launched from China, is a prime example of what he calls Chávez's grandiose plans. For the government, it is a symbol of sovereign pride.
"It is a reaffirmation of our path towards independence, in all areas of knowledge," Science Minister Jorge Arreaza said on Twitter. "The rancid bourgeois (opposition) dismiss it and humiliate the workers ... who designed and built it. How sad!"
Like the "Simon Bolivar Satellite" launched from China in 2008, officials say the new spacecraft will help the government monitor the environment, improve urban planning and even crack down on illegal mining and drug cultivation.
Both satellites were named after 19th-century independence heroes. Live footage of Friday's late-night launch is due to be beamed from China to big screens in Caracas' museum district, where officials were gearing up for a street party.
In the run-up to previous elections, Chávez has often unveiled many projects in an effort to impress voters. This time, his campaigning has been much less intense, partly because he has suffered two bouts of cancer since June 2011.