Henrique Capriles, Venezuela's opposition leader and governor of Miranda state, pauses as he addresses the media in Caracas March 10, 2013. (Photo : Reuters)
Henrique Capriles, the leader of Venezuela's moderate opposition, announced he is running for president again, as the country prepares for a special election in just a few weeks after the recent death of President Hugo Chavez from cancer.
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"Nicolas, I will not give you a free path," Capriles said to reporters, referring to Nicolas Maduro, the current vice president, now acting president, and heir-apparent to Chavez's legacy. "You will have to defeat me with votes. My fight is not to be president. My fight is for Venezuela to move forward."
Last October, Capriles lost the presidential election to Chavez by 9 points. That may seem like a huge margin to American voters, but it was the smallest margin of victory for Chavez in any of his four presidential wins.
While Chavez had the support of most of the poor and working classes, as well as the military, Capriles was and is popular with the middle classes, students and Venezuelan expatriates living in the United States.
Chavez had been in poor health for two years following a cancer diagnosis, and shortly after his reelection, he announced his cancer had returned, and he was traveling to Cuba for surgery. Before leaving, Chavez proclaimed Maduro to inheritor of his legacy, a fact Maduro will drive home during this shortened campaign.
Chavez's death last week caused a huge outpouring of grief across the country and Latin America, and Maduro will likely reap a large sympathy vote in the wake of the bombastic and charismatic leader's early death.
"I will be president and commander in chief of the armed forces because that's what Chavez ordered me to do. I will follow his orders, but I need the help of the people," Maduro said this week.
Already Maduro has been fanning the passions of loyal 'Chavistas' commited to Chavez's Socialist Party. He claimed Chavez's cancer was caused by agents trying to subvert and overthrow the Venezuelan government.
"His aim is to provoke the Venezuelan people," Maduro said of Capriles. "He's looking for violence."
While the last months of Chavez's life saw a great deal of speculation about a potential splintering of power after his death, it seems that most of the other influential figures in the government are falling in line behind Maduro. There have been no signs of rebellion among military leaders or from Diosdado Cabello, the head of the National Assembly, or from Chavez's older brother, a regional governor.
The Communist Party, which is smaller than the socialists, has thrown its support behind Maduro as well.
The Venezuelan Constitution, which Chavez helped write, mandates a presidential election within 30 days of Chavez's death. It seems unlikely that Capriles will be able to overcome the wave of 'Chavismo' sweeping the country, at least not so soon after the death of an icon.