Thursday, February 16, 2012

Venezuela Elects Challenger to Run Against President Chavez

Chicago Tribune: Factbox: What Does Henrique Capriles Want for Venezuela?
Miami Herald: Henrique Capriles Wins Opposition Primary
NYT: Opposition Voters in Venezuela Pick a Challenger for Chavez
WSJ: Chavez Opponent Surges in Venezuela

Henrique Capriles Radonski, the current governor of the state of Miranda in Venezuela (one of the country’s most populous states), won a primary election on February 12 to become the opposition candidate to run against President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela’s upcoming presidential election. For the first time during President Chavez’s 13-year tenure as president all of Venezuela’s opposition parties have agreed to support the winner of the primary election. In previous years, President Chavez has won elections by distinguishing himself from his opponents, whom he has characterized as outdated and out of touch with the needs of modern-day Venezuelans. Experts believe, however, that President Chavez, age 57, will find it difficult to implement this strategy against Mr. Capriles, age 39.

Mr. Capriles, however, lacks the billions of dollars of state funds to spend on social programs for the poor and control over virtually all of the country’s media that have contributed to President Chavez’s popularity with voters. Under President Chavez, quality of life among the poor has generally improved. As a result, analysts conclude that around thirty percent of Venezuelans remain strong supporters of President Chavez, and a substantial number of Venezuelans will likely vote for him in the coming elections. His approval rating is around fifty percent. The rating, however, may not indicate how Venezuelans really feel about President Chavez since many fear losing their jobs if they speak out against him.

Nonetheless, Venezuelans have shown their support for Mr. Capriles during political rallies and the primary election. Mr. Capriles has won voters’ support by promising them many of the same social benefits they have enjoyed under President Chavez, but with what he claims will be better management. He cites as examples of his commitment to social welfare programs the health clinics built and food programs implemented by his administration in the state of Miranda. He has also promised not to discriminate between beneficiaries of social programs based on their political beliefs, as President Chavez’s government currently does. As a result, Mr. Capriles has won the support of Venezuelans who are dissatisfied with President Chavez’s regime, particularly the high crime rate, food and housing shortages, corruption, and President Chavez’s increasing control over political and civic affairs.

Mr. Capriles, who has characterized himself as business-friendly but socially conscious, has also promised greater economic development in Venezuela. He wants to fund development projects by boosting oil production and encouraging foreign investment in the oil industry, but critics note that Mr. Capriles has not released any detailed plans for achieving these changes. Economic development, Mr. Capriles argues, can only occur when the fear of nationalization is gone—when investors and entrepreneurs believe that opening a business in Venezuela does not carry a large risk of nationalization. Mr. Capriles, however, has stated that although he opposes more nationalization in Venezuela, he will not privatize the state oil company PDVSA if he wins the election. Furthermore, Mr. Capriles insists that, because nationalizations cannot be undone quickly, his government would study state-run companies and projects on a case-by-case basis to determine whether privatization would be the best course of action.

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