Chavez vs Capriles: Who will win over Venezuela’s poor?

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Venezuela’s Capriles wins primary, looks toward October election

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez talks to the press after a meeting with foreign ministers of the countries members of the ALBA ( Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) trade block at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

After 13 years in the highest office, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have met his match.

About 3 million people, or roughly one-fifth of the electorate, showed up to vote during the country’s primary on Feb. 12. Sixty-two percent of the votes went to state governor and oppositional candidate Henrique Capriles.

He’s the opposition’s closest shot at beating Chavez in the Oct. 7 elections.

Although Chavez has 35 percent support from the poor, the middle class and the rich have subsequently blamed him for the country’s economic woes like inflation, increased government spending on social welfare programs and increased crime, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

But there’s another side to Chavez. He equipped shantytowns with thousands of clinics staffed by Cuban doctors and has given the poor access to subsidized food via government grocery stores.

Under his ruling, infant mortality rates have also dropped.

Chavez is credited with driving unemployment and poverty rates down by nearly 50 percent, according to Global Post. However, that decline is in part due to Chavez doubling the number of state workers, from 1.2 million to 2.2 million.

Venezuela, according to Global Post, “now stands at one of the lowest levels in Latin America as measured by the so-called ‘Gini coefficient.'”

“Venezuela has made significant progress in the past 12 years toward creating a more egalitarian, inclusive, and participatory society,” wrote Gregory Wilpert, an American sociologist and author who founded Venezuela Analysis, a website that covers current events in Venezuela.

But Chavez critics say the country could be better off if it was not for him alienating the nation from former allies. Now those critics and Chavez’s opposition are closing in. They think it’s time for a “change.”

That change comes from the charismatic young governor Capriles who is described as an advocate for the poor. At 26 years old, he was the youngest elected legislature, according to Reuters.

Capriles said he brings a new focus that will encompass helping the poor and bringing economic growth to the country. He seeks to do what former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva did for the poor.

“I’m in a process of constructing a political change…I don’t represent the old establishment,” Capriles told the CSM.

At 39, he hopes to be the country’s youngest president.

Read it at CSM

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