Venezuela’s stridently anti-capitalist president, Hugo Chavez, has urged the rich to vote for him to prevent a “civil war,” while his rival told the poor he will not scrap popular socialist welfare projects if he wins next month’s election.
Mr. Chavez, 58, and Henrique Capriles, 40, face off in an Oct. 7 vote for the presidency of the South American nation of 29 million people. , which has the world’s largest oil reserves and is a financier of leftist governments around the region. Though Mr. Chavez leads the majority of Venezuela’s best-known polls, Mr. Capriles’s numbers have been creeping up in recent weeks and he is just ahead in a couple of them, leaving each side to believe it has a strong chance of winning.
Having made a political career of bashing the rich for all of Venezuela’s ills – and indeed the world’s – the socialist Mr. Chavez told them in a campaign speech late on Sunday that they should back him if they want stability.
“The rich families have their families, fine houses, good vehicles, probably an apartment at the beach, properties and so on. They like to travel abroad for holidays,” he told a rally. “Does a civil war suit them? Not at all. It only suits the extreme, fascist right embodied by the loser. It is in the interests of the peace-loving rich for Chavez to win, and I invite them to vote for Chavez on Oct. 7. Chavez guarantees peace, stability and economic growth.”
Mr. Chavez does not use Mr. Capriles’s name in public, routinely referring to him with the insulting epithet majunche, which can be loosely translated as “loser,” and insisting Mr. Capriles’s supporters have violent plans to end socialism in Venezuela. The opposition points dismisses the President’s frequent comments about possible civil war as irresponsible scaremongering, pointing out Mr. Chavez himself led a failed military coup in 1992.
Venezuela’s richest are normally virulently anti-Chavez and decry the shrinking of the private sector, though some also maintain healthy businesses in partnership with the government.
Mr. Chavez remains immensely popular among Venezuela’s poor, in part because of his own humble roots and folksy style, and also due to oil-funded welfare projects like subsidized food stores, and free health care and education.