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To try to close the 11 percentage-point gap he lost by in October, Capriles will hope to focus Venezuelans’ attention away from the emotions over Chavez and onto day-to-day problems.
There is widespread disquiet over shocking murder rates, runaway prices, power cuts, potholes, housing shortages and corruption at all levels in government.
Advised by Brazilian strategists, Capriles made such issues the heart of his 2012 campaign and is likely to repeat the tactic, casting Maduro as the wrong man to fix problems.
Chavez trumped Capriles last year with his larger-than-life personality and constant reminders of his government’s wildly popular social “missions” that offer a range of services in the slums from free Cuban-staffed medical clinics to cheap groceries.
Given the rhetoric flying between Maduro and Capriles even before Chavez’s death, the campaign is likely to be an ugly one once a week of mourning for Chavez is over. The vote should be within 30 days of Chavez’s death, according to the constitution.
Last year, government supporters threw racist and homophobic taunts at Capriles, who has Jewish roots and lost great-grandparents in the Treblinka concentration camp in German-occupied Poland during World War Two.
Despite his family background, Capriles is a devout Catholic, whose faith deepened during a four-month stint in jail for his role in a confused fracas at the Cuban Embassy in 2002. He wears a rosary and visits a shrine on Margarita Island each year.
Though he has cultivated a man-on-the-street image, dressing and talking simply, Capriles does come from a wealthy family, and class prejudices are sure to figure in the campaign.
Just last week, Maduro scoffed at a private trip by Capriles to Miami and New York, calling him a “little prince of the parasitical bourgeoisie.”
If he were to win, Capriles says he would copy Brazil’s “modern left” model of economic and social policies. “I’m 100 percent Lula,” Capriles says, referring to former Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Capriles says he would stop nationalizations but only gradually dismantle some of the most radical Chavez-era statist economic policies, including currency and price controls, to prevent chaos.
Capriles denies accusations by the government of wanting to scrap its social “missions” or privatize state oil company PDVSA, saying in both cases he simply wants to de-politicize institutions and improve efficiency.
Though describing himself as progressive, Capriles belongs to the conservative Primero Justicia (First Justice) party, which he helped found in 2000. Foes say he is really an “ultra-right” politician in the pocket of Venezuela’s pro-U.S. traditional elite, but masquerading as a progressive.
On foreign policy, he wants to cool Venezuela’s relations with faraway Chavez-era allies like Iran and Belarus - and stop oil subsidies to political allies like Cuba - while improving ties with the West, particularly the United States.