Friday, April 12, 2013

Political Violence Mars Venezuelan Presidential Race (Updated)

Six people in Venezuela died on Thursday during a massive rally in support of interim leader and presidential candidate Nicolás Maduro.

According to the Venezuelan press, among the dead were two ladies aged 24 and 28 who were gunned down while riding a motorcycle at the event that took place in Caracas.

Another victim, a 35-year-old man, was killed as he set off fireworks near the headquarters of state-owned oil firm PDVSA.

Sympathizers of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles were also targeted this week in several acts of electoral violence. 

At least seven student demonstrators on a hunger strike in the Venezuelan capital city were seriously injured on Monday when they were physically attacked and hit by Molotov cocktails.

The next day the head of an opposition campaign activist was killed in Táchira while fourteen people were injured on Wednesday during clashes between Chavistas and anti-Chavistas after a Capriles event in Merida.

The violence occurred in the midst of a very tense campaign period that officially ended yesterday with massive, competing rallies.

Maduro emphasized that he is the rightful successor to recently deceased President Hugo Chávez and pledged to continue his policies of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution.

"I hope to live up to the responsibility he (Chavez) gave me, I aspire to live up to these people. They may know the poor of our country that will have me as his protector, his father, President…the Christ of the poor in Latin America,” declared Maduro at an event in downtown Caracas.

Capriles, meanwhile, spoke to hundreds of thousands of backers in in the northern city of Acarigua, and promised to tackle government corruption and improve the country’s economy.

“I ask you for the opportunity to show that I can indeed govern and make things right,” said Capriles who added that if elected to the presidency on Sunday he would scale back Chávez-era social programs.

Venezuela’s increasing crime and murder rates was one of the main topics discussed by both of the candidates vying to follow Chávez who held the presidency from 1998 to his death last month:
Joining a protest with thousands of his supporters in Caracas on (April 1st), Mr. Capriles shouted: “We want to build a country where everyone can walk in the streets without fear.” 
Mr. Maduro opted to shift the blame for the difficulties Venezuela now faces. “The truth is,” he said from Catia la Mar, close to Caracas’s international airport, “that capitalism is to blame for the violence in this country.” 
During Hugo Chavez’s 14-years as President murder rates in Venezuela more than quadrupled, from 11 per 100,000 people at the start of his tenure in 1999 to 47 today… 
Not all Venezuelans are impressed by the anti-violence rhetoric. Waiting outside the Caracas morgue for news of her nephew who had been shot and killed in the Caracas slum of Petare, Antonia Diaz said: “The government says it’s going to change things but we haven’t seen anything yet. We’re listening to what the politicians say, but it’s another thing to see it in action.”
In several polls taken over the past few weeks the former vice president has held consistent but shrinking leads over the Miranda governor.  For instance, a Datanalisis poll conducted earlier this month gave Maduro a 55%-45% lead, which is smaller than a 14-point gap in another Datanalisis poll taken shortly after Chávez passed away.

Update: Speaking about violence, the Venezuelan government on Friday allegedly foiled a plot aimed at disrupting Sunday's presidential election.

Vice President Jorge Arreaza claimed on national TV that two paramilitary soldiers from Colombia were caught after they tried to pose as Venezuelan military officers.  He also displayed fifty assault cartridges and explosives supposedly linked to Salvadoran mercenaries.

"We've managed to dismantle a plan that would try to influence the election or the post-election period...This is wonderful news, because it means that we can all vote on Sunday in peace," said Arreaza.

Opposition politicians replied to the arrest by accusing the Maduro administration of using scare tactics as part of their campaign strategy.

"These kinds of actions are intended to plant fear, intimidate and keep Venezuelans away from voting booths...The Venezuelan people are savvy and know what they have to do," said Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, head of the opposition Coalition for Democratic Unity, at a news conference.

Last month, Maduro accused the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency of being "behind a plan to assassinate the right-wing presidential candidate (Capriles) to createchaos."

Video Source– YouTube via euronews
Online Sources including Update – El Tiempo (Venezuela); infolatam; BBC News; Xinhua; The Independent; Huffington Post, Reuters

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