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Meet Henrique Capriles, the man who may end Chavez’s reign

Worldcrunch.

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com / CLARIN

PUERTO ORDAZ – In the van that takes him from town to town, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles always carries a supply of his signature tri-colored baseball hats, a bag of similarly designed shirts, and vitamins to prevent him from coming down with a cold, especially on days like this, with its intermittent mix of rain and sunshine.

Seven months ago, on February 12, Venezuela’s opposition selected Capriles as its sole candidate to face Hugo Chávez in the elections set to take place October 7. Chávez, Venezuela’s comandante-president, hopes to be reelected for a third time and thus complete a mandate of 20 consecutive years.

Recent polls suggest that the generous lead Chávez enjoyed until June has shrunk, and that now, with the election close, the two candidates are running neck-and-neck. Nevertheless, Capriles is putting his faith not so much in the polls as in the pulse of the streets, and in the watchful eye his followers are keeping over the country’s voting stations.

Chávez, in the meantime, is trying hard in these final days of the campaign to mobilize supporters who might think victory for the ‘revolution’ is assured and thus stay home on voting day.

CLARIN: How will you safeguard your votes? Some people in the opposition believe that even if you win, it’ll be hard to make the victory stick.

HENRIQUE CAPRILES: How have I always done it? Have I ever just been handed a victory? The way to safeguard votes is by keeping watch over the voting booths. There’s a team of responsible people coordinating that process.

Government officials have said they will investigate your campaign financing. Where is the money coming from?

Let them go ahead and investigate me. I’ll give them whatever they need. But let’s also investigate the Chávez administration. This campaign is completely unbalanced. Just look at how many more of Chávez’ posters are in the street than mine. In this campaign, every municipality and political party that supports me has had to come up with its own money. We’ve sold thousands of the tri-color baseball hats. We’ve had fundraiser dinners, raffles. But this hasn’t been a campaign driven by publicity or money. It’s been driven instead by my titanic efforts to campaign on the ground. I’ve traveled all over Venezuela, offering up my body and soul. The heart of this campaign has been me. Since I was elected in February as the opposition candidate, I’ve done three complete tours of Venezuela. I’ve gone to towns that no presidential candidate has visited since Carlos Andrés Pérez, in his first campaign, many years ago.

[Andrés Pérez served twice as president of Venezuela, first from 1974 to 1979, and later from 1989 to 1993].

The opposition alliance, which goes by the name Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, has more than 20 parties, from both the right and left. With which of those parties would you govern?

With the best ones. This isn’t about dividing things up into power quotas for the various parties. That’s not my political vision.

Under Chávez, Venezuela’s foreign policy has been held together by oil policy. As president, what would you do, for example, with the Caribbean oil alliance Petrocaribe, through which countries like Cuba enjoy preferential oil deals?

The petro-checkbook policy will end. With Cuba, we have to rebalance our accounts. [Cuba receives 100,000 barrels of oil per day in exchange for medical and other services]…. Right now we’re basically giving Cuba $3 billion. We can’t just keep giving money away. I’m not here to support some other country’s political model, or to prop up a particular political party in another country. We’re not going to give away another drop of oil. The money is going to be invested right here in Venezuela, for the benefit of the Venezuelan people, for the poorest.

If you win, there will be a three-month transition period between the elections and the inauguration of the new administration. Are you afraid that Chávez’s backers could compromise the transition by, for example, using the parliament to give Chávez special powers?

That would be crazy. We believe that the parliament should instead pass legislation protecting the transition. What the government ought to do right now is start preparing things so that it’s ready to hand over power…. There’s an election process and a constitutional obligation: if you lose, you hand over power. There’s no room for adventures.

What Latin American leaders or movements have inspired you?

I’m more about following a vision than following a particular person. Looking around Latin America, I see Brazil as a successful model and positive point of reference, which Venezuela would do well to follow.