After beating Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles in last year’s presidential election, Hugo Chavez telephoned him and courteously quipped: “You made me get out and work hard!”
Now in his second campaign for the OPEC nation’s top job, the tireless Capriles has again pushed himself to the limit to ensure his new rival and election favorite, Chavez’s protege Nicolas Maduro, does not have an easy path to victory.
“I’m shedding my skin for Venezuela,” Capriles, 40, roared this week at the final rallies of a passionate campaign where he has re-energized opposition backers still upset about his loss against the socialist Chavez last October.
“My body and bones may be hurting, but my heart is bursting with emotion - this isn’t euphoria, it’s hysteria for change!” he said at a rally in eastern Venezuela during an almost manic criss-crossing of the country in search of votes.
After beating Capriles in October for his fourth presidential election victory, the cancer-stricken Chavez’s health deteriorated quickly and he died on March 5.
He had named Maduro as his chosen heir before undergoing his last cancer operation in December, and a surge of emotion over his death has given Maduro a huge boost ahead of the election on Sunday.
Fighting to counter that, Capriles has drawn huge crowds, lost weight, gone hoarse and swapped last year’s cautious respect for Chavez with gleefully irreverent attacks on Maduro.
Lambasting him daily as a “liar,” “incompetent” and member of a “corrupt” elite, Capriles has mocked the acting president for calling an ancient curse on the heads of opposition voters and claiming Chavez had appeared to him in the form of a bird.
From wearing the red colors of the ruling Socialist Party or logo of the state oil company, to saying his little finger had more revolutionary fiber than Maduro’s whole body, Capriles’ new aggression has delighted supporters.
Yet all local polls still show him behind, albeit with a gap shrinking to below 10 points in some weekly surveys.