New Internationalist

Who is Henrique Capriles Radonski?

election posters in VenezuelaThe presidential elections are a truly national event in Venezuela. There are rallies to attend, public statements and press releases by the candidates, mini-newspapers containing plans for the next six years of government… and everyone has an opinion.

The posters are the easiest to spot. On every street corner, two faces are prevalent: Hugo Chavez, and his main opponent, Capriles Radonski. Chavez, corazon de mi patria. Heart of my country. Capriles, hay un camino. There is a way. Where this way will lead us, exactly, we are not told.

With just two weeks to go until voting takes place, the candidate who tops the polls is difficult to miss. Hugo Chavez is a larger-than-life character, and has become well-known for his statements denouncing, imperialism, capitalism and US foreign policy. The man who famously called George W Bush ‘Mr Danger’ for his murderous policies of invasion in Afghanistan and Iraq looks to be on course for yet another election victory on 7 October, but what about Capriles? The Roundtable of Democratic Unity [MUD] coalition he represents is looking far from united; just two weeks ago, four organizations withdrew their support for the opposition candidate after leaked documents revealed the neoliberal agenda of his economic policies. But what are his main campaign policies, and how has he gone about communicating them to the Venezuelan people? Does he have the potential to cause an upset?

According to articles in mainstream Western media, Capriles is a ‘centre-left progressive’, and indeed, this seems to be the way he is attempting to present himself to voters. Instead of attacking the Misiones (missions) introduced by the Chavez government to tackle healthcare and education, Capriles has recognized the immense popularity they enjoy with the millions of ordinary Venezuelan people who run them at a local level and benefit from them. So Capriles has decided that, if elected, he will keep the Misiones in place.

If only he were telling the truth. On 23 August, an internal MUD document was leaked to the Venezuelan media, revealing his economic plans. The MERCAL Misiones, government-subsidized supermarkets offering families basic foods for a fraction of their usual price, are among the targets; food subsidies would be decreased by 60 per cent over the next three years. The Gran Mision Vivienda, which aims to build two million houses and also funds poorer sections of society to build their own housing, is to be ended. I have been extremely impressed by the fast and efficient Metro service around Caracas, on which, as a disabled person, I can travel for free – as can my brother, as someone helping me. Under Capriles, however, subsidized travel will be taken out of service, and standard prices will be increased by 5 per cent every four months in several cities.

Even before the leaked documents, it may have been difficult for voters to believe claims that he would keep in place Misiones which would never have existed without the actions of the Chavez government he is so intent on attacking. A march of hundreds of thousands which took place on Saturday in the capital, Caracas, and was dubbed ‘Misiones con Chavez’ in support of his re-election bid, seems to be a case in point. Similarly large mobilizations have taken place in the cities of Merida and Trujillo in recent days, attracting numbers that the opposition simply cannot.

Rather than policies, however, it seems to be Chavez’ personality that Capriles really dislikes, so perhaps we should analyze the latter’s own background in order to understand where he is coming from.  In 2002, during the coup which ousted Chavez from power for a grand total of two days, Capriles was serving as mayor of Baruta. On 12 April, the Baruta police arrested the Minister of the Interior, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin. On the same day, Capriles was part of a crowd in Baruta that attacked the Cuban embassy, cutting off water and electricity, destroying vehicles parked outside and refusing to allow the Cuban ambassador to leave. Chavez has often been criticized for his ties with the Cuban government, which has resulted in such ‘atrocities’ as thousands of Cuban doctors providing free healthcare for the poorest sections of Venezuelan society through the Mision Barrio Adentro. Of course, attacking the embassy of any country is illegal under international law, but Capriles refused to accept responsibility, claiming that he helped to prevent further violence. After a lengthy investigation and more than one arrest, he was cleared of all charges under a government amnesty in December 2007.

It doesn’t add up to a record to be proud of. Nevertheless, Capriles is determined to get his message out. Hugo Chavez may have Plan Carabobo, his proposal for the next six years of the Bolivarian revolution, but Capriles has his Plan Venezuela, and he seems unwilling to give up without a fight. Indeed, that is what many are now concerned about: as the April 2002 coup and the oil bosses’ strike in December of that year show, the opposition is not averse to using extra-constitutional methods to achieve its objectives. As an electoral victory for the opposition becomes increasingly unlikely – a recent survey of opinion polls from August and the first week of September gave Chavez an average of 51 per cent support, but Capriles only 35 per cent – there are worries that the opposition may decide to refuse to accept the results of the election.

In a speech delivered in Caracas last Thursday, however, Capriles claimed that he was still confident of his chances.

‘…and we are going to see the victory of Plan Carabo- err… Plan Venezuela!’

It was a slip of the tongue, but perhaps, for once, Capriles was closer to the truth than he would like to admit.

Photo: Finlay McIntyre

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  1. #1 luis mosquera 25 Sep 12

    I'm impressed of the way that you tell this story (not history), it's exactly the same that the venezuelan government propaganda machine is doing. Perhaps you receive some sort of guide to obtain your posts inspiration?

  2. #2 CarlosGT 25 Sep 12

    I just wondered how much did Chavez government pay you to write this completely off article...Chavez government besides creating false proofs of such documents, they make their own corruption part of their campaign...why don't you write about what Chavez has to offer?..i know why, because he hasn't delivered a 1/4 of what he promised for the last 14 years. but of course, its easy for you to criticize when you haven't lived what every venezuelan lives daily. So it is no secret that people like you and Eva Golinger, who called themselves professionals, write such far fetched articles of a ’Revolution’ that is a fantasy rather than a reality. Get your facts straight please.

  3. #3 JP 25 Sep 12

    Dear New Internationalist,

    I am interested in events in Venezuela and find Chavez's social programmes to be largely inspiring. However I can't trust Jody Mcintyre to give a faithful account not least because of his support for the London riots last year. Anyway surely you can find a Venezuelan journalist or activist to comment on their own country as is usually the New Internationalist way?

    I remain, in hope, a subscriber.


  4. #4 Babyfer3005 26 Sep 12

    I can't believe the way you wrote this article. Clearly you know nothing about Venezuela and the crisis our country face everyday. There is millions of students that graduate everyday and just cannot find a job because the government do not create job plans for the graduates. The insecurity in Venezuela is insane. Just last year 17000 people were kill! Caracas is the most dangerous capital of the world, in Petare lives aprox. 1600000 people and they have only 1100 police officers in service just do the math... The public hospital ’Perez de Leon’ just on weekends receives victims of the ’ampa’ every 30 minutes so do you think Venezuela is supporting Chavez government? We are tired of the same thing we want freedom and security to our country. Please get inform before you write about something you don't know

  5. #5 michael houldey 26 Sep 12

    An informative view. And you don't have to be Venezuelan to write about Venezuela. Chavez is of course viewed with extreme suspicion by certain sections of the UK press so I doubt if we will read much coverage of the issues surrounding the forthcoming election. Did Capriles really use the word 'atrocities'?

  6. #6 Jose 26 Sep 12

    Hey Jody, dont mind the people who commented. Chavez supporters, the majority of the Venezuelan population, were not privileged enough to learn English, so they do not have access to news in English and they don't need to. I have lived in Venezuela conducting academic research for 3 months and I saw with my eyes that people love Chavez and see the Bolivarian Revolution as the only hope for a better future. Indeed crime is a huge problem, but the government is currently implementing a mision to put an end of it. The poorest sectors of Venezuelan society which comprised 60% of the population in the mid 90s as a result of neo liberal policies still support Chavez. It is true that the opposition cannot get nearly as many participants on its rallies as Chavez. The infrastructure in some parts of the country may be in shatters, but many new infrastructure projects at the benefit of the poor are operating. Old people and young mothers have social security for the first time in their lives. Therefore neo liberal opposition will lose again!

  7. #7 Andrea 29 Sep 12

    As a Venezuelan, I find this article completely misleading. Just last year, over 19000 people lost their lives to violence. Public hospitals are full of people lying on the floor, sitting in chairs waiting to receive treatment in the ER. The hospitals do not receive even 10% of the budget they need. Neither do public universities, which are free and the best in the country; the professors don't get paid when they have to and only keep working because they WANT to. Misiones are largely run (poorly) by Cubans, instead of employing Venezuelans. Just this year, there have been over 1000 abductions. I was personally affected by one of them. You leave your house scared to death because life isn't worth anything. Organized crime works from inside the prisons, where they have arms, drugs, money and hookers. The police is corrupt beyond thought. Try living in Venezuela for a year and then write an objective article. Oh, and also, the leaked Capriles documents were FALSE, mind you. He was elected governor of Miranda and did an outstanding job there. His rallies have attracted millions of people around the country; while Chávez, older and ailing, has fewer people in his rallies everyday. He calls Capriles things you wouldn't say to an animal. They have called him Nazi (even though his ancestors were Jew and suffered in WWII), faggot, illiterate, pathetic, etc. Chávez's family, however, has become richer than Midas. Everyone around him has stolen millions and millions of dollars. They have numerous houses around the world, cars, jets, while people die and starve and suffer. So if you want to talk about my country, please do some real research first.

  8. #8 Mrs Venezuela 01 Oct 12

    Dear Jody, I guess you don´t live in Venezuela, that´s why is so easy to put Chavez as a poor soul, victim of all us who have to fight every day to get medicines, to get quality food, to survive delinquency and the horror of non justice, so easy to applaude a fraude that would like to continue for 6 more years, NO THANKS! I want to live in freedom, I want my daughter go to class feeling safe and not afraid because a criminal held a gun to her face asking for her cellphone, I want my son go to class without the fear of teargas blowing in a nearby hall because the government doesn´t want free thinkers, I want my husband going to work without the horror of armed government officials collecting money because in every construction site if you don´t pay them you die. I am very sorry but keep your oppinions to things you are familiar to, don´t repeat what you hear from Chavez, it would be sad for me to think that he can buy people around the globe and the people is so desperate for money that accepts JUST TO REPEAT EVERY WORD HE SAYS, pathetic.

  9. #9 Matt in London 02 Oct 12

    Venezuela is always a tricky subject. On the one hand you have those who say that Chavez is bravely fighting against US-supported neo-liberals trying to wreck the wealth-sharing reforms he had been able to put in place, on the other hand those who say that he is a blood-sucking thieving autocrat spreading lies to crush a genuinely democratic opposition and maintain his dictatorial grip on power. Having no personal understanding of the situation in Venezuela and no knowledge of how Chavez actually thinks or acts (beyond what I am told by both parties), whom am I supposed to believe? (I guess that the answer lies in between, but seeing how extreme both views are it doesn't really help...)

  10. #10 Maria Teresa Salazar 03 Oct 12

    Yes, another one who is either terribly misguided, or is definitely receiving money from us, Venezuelans, which should be spent at home building schools, hospitals, roads, which we sorely lack.

    I am all for helping our neighboring countries, but the sewers, running water, and schools, just to name three core trouble issues (will not even refer to lack of security, that could take several hours, proving figures of homicides per week, just to rob someone's car or even shoes!), in Venezuela should also be tended to.

    So tell, us, how much were you paid, as part of the billionare lobbying effort by el Comandante que se va?

  11. #11 Lotte 03 Oct 12

    You seriously have no idea what you are talking about, Jody McIntyre.

  12. #12 CristobalL 04 Oct 12

    With all due respect Jody, this is a terrible article you wrote here. This cannot even be called journalism since you obviously made no effort whatsoever to understand what is really going on in Venezuela and who Capriles and Chavez are. If you were intending to write an emotional article based on your superficial impressions as an outsider, then please stick to that theme, title your article as such, and write about things like the great metro system in Caracas. But please, don't pretend to be an expert on Venezuela's politics. You are clearly not, and writing such a naive and misleading article online that thousands of people read, is an insult to millions of Venezuelans and quite frankly an insult to journalism. From other articles and blogs you have written, it is clear that you have a great activist spirit, energy, and often fight for the right things, but as a journalist, you have a responsibility to know your topic, to investigate thoroughly and if possible to remain impartial. This time you clearly failed in your journalistic responsibilities.

  13. #13 nicholas vanderborgh 04 Oct 12

    Excellent, thoughtful, informative. It would be interesting to learn who is funding the opposition. I remember the Majors (big oil) walked away from Hugo' s tar sands and moved the billions to Alberta, causing that environmental disaster. I remember that Venezuela got funds from China to keep the heavy crude flowing. Does the money rue their decision?

  14. #14 Freddy 05 Oct 12

    You are proving how blind ignorance can be.
    I bet you have never been in Venezuela.
    I am sorry but people who support a government like the one Venezuela currently have is either an ignorant or evil resentful person.
    Something must be wrong with you as to write with such conviction about something you have no idea about.

    Chavez and his supporters has a very peculiar characteristic.
    They are all trouble makers. I don't have any idea who you are but chances are you are in the same boat.

    Get yourself a holiday. Come on, go to Venezuela and spend 3 months there ( i doubt you would survive )
    Then you may understand why Venezuelans, who never used to emigrate started doing that after Chavez was elected.
    Take myself as an example.. I never thought I was going to emigrate and suddenly found myself having to adapt to a totally different situation at almost 50.
    Having to learn a new language and struggle in a new country that has offered me a security that does not exist in my own country anymore.
    Me and my family were all under a constant threat in our own country so we just take the saving of all our lives and came to clean in another country because it's not about status anymore. It's about surviving and trying to give our kids a better future.

    Have some respect for other people tragedies because that's all Chavez means to Venezuelans.

    And don't believe all those people in the rallies are there on their own will.
    The government force many of them and I know it first hand because I used to work for them and it was compulsory to march and to vote for Chavez.

    Shame on you Jodi,


  15. #15 Mikhail 06 Oct 12

    It is always amusing to see the hysterical upper classes out of their minds that someone that speaks the language that they took for granted would contribute to the terror campaign against Chavez would dare to speak out. As someone who has been to Venezuela I can attest that while Chavez presidency is not free of issues or errors it is by FAR a much more engaged and democratic government than before. What these lovely people ultimately want is a return to the status quo, a return to that part where more than half of Venezuelans were completely forgotten by the upper classes. Look a little sophistication and analysis gets you far. There is a REASON why Capriles doesn't want to touch the misiones, why? Because pretending to be a right winger in Venezuela is an absolute no go, so they will say anything to try to beat (all 30 parties of them) Chavez, What this people on here never bother to explain is why Chavez has won every single election save for a referendum (which he actually respected! Talk about a dictator no?) In short to listen to the hysterical messages here only reminds me why they are so out of touch.

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About the author

Jody McIntyre a New Internationalist contributor

Jody McIntyre is a writer, poet, political activist and founder of The Equality Movement. He blogs at Life on Wheels.

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