A forceful Henrique Capriles went on TV last night and accepted the challenge to run against Venezuela’s interim President Nicolas Maduro, in a speech that quickly proved what I suggested on Saturday: Politics is back in Venezuela now that Chavez is absent.
Capriles was extraordinary in a very strong speech, which was carefully thought out. At all times, Capriles was very respectful of Hugo Chavez and fairly dismissive of Nicolas Maduro, whom he referred to as Nicolas or “Nicolas, chico” all the time. In one of his best lines, Capriles said, “Nicolas is not Chavez and you all know it, even Chavez complained about those that surrounded him and those are the people that want to govern you”
He noted that the Government and Nicolas had been lying to the people and he was very inclusive, saying he was not running for himself or to get power, but because he wanted Venezuela to do better. He offered a Government for all.
On the lying, he suggested that Chavez had been dead a while, asking how come all of the t-shirt and flags were ready for the funeral and support for Nicolas.
He blasted the Minister of Defense, not only for his illegal support of Nicola’s candidacy, but also he told him he was a disgrace, finishing next to last in his military class.
He had very unkind words for the Head of the Electoral Board, who wore a revolutionary arm band at Chavez’ funeral an asked her for respect, not for him, but for the Venezuelans who are not Chavistas and for the law.
By being forceful and confrontational, Capriles was not only re-energizing the voters, was clearly choosing a different campaign strategy than the one against Chavez. He knew then he had to be respectful of Chavez and he is ever more respectful now, but now he is completely critical of Nicolas and his cohorts. Capriles also seems to recognize that politics changed in Venezuela when Hugo Chavez passed away on March 5th.
And that this is the case was proven immediately, when Nicolas could not wait and had to respond to Capriles within the hour, something Chavez would have never done. Nicolas came and tried to blast Capriles, but his speech was too forced. And in a clear sign that Chavismo is worried about participation in the upcoming election, Nicolas announced that on the same day there will be a referendum to change the Constitution so that Chavez can be buried in the Panteon Nacional immediately. This was clearly a ploy to have the Chavista rank and file more involved in the upcoming election, but Capriles and the opposition can simply bypass the issue by backing the referendum and saying that if the people want it, it should be done.
But more importantly, Nicolas’ speech demonstrated what a weak candidate and poor politician he is. The campaign is too short for Capriles to overcome the abuse of power of Chavismo and the sympathy vote, but it seems as if Capriles had given the whole thing a lot of thought. And in the opening moments of the campaign, score one for the challenger.