CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition standard bearer Henrique Capriles mocked President Hugo Chavez’s grandiose campaign pledges two weeks before the election, and vowed to fix voters’ daily problems if he wins.
Capriles, a 40-year-old state governor, said the socialist leader was more interested in promoting his self-styled revolution around the globe than in addressing local issues such a power cuts, unemployment and high crime rates.
Speaking on Saturday at a rally in southern Bolivar state, Capriles brandished the proposals by Chavez’s campaign in a leaflet bearing the slogan “The Candidate of the Fatherland.”
“I invite you all to read this. This is what the government is interested in: ... ‘guarantee world peace, preserve the life of the planet and save the human species,’” he said to laughs and jeers from the crowd.
“They want to take this revolution, this political project, to other countries, and use our resources to finance it. ... I don’t see anything about solving the problems with electricity, the problems with water, with public services.”
Chavez, whose oil-fuelled largesse has helped support leftist governments around Latin America, is seeking another six-year term in a close race ahead of the October 7 election for control of the OPEC member with the world’s biggest oil reserves.
The 58-year-old, who has undergone cancer surgery three times since June 2011, remains very popular with many in the country’s poor majority thanks to heavy state spending on social development projects, as well as his own humble roots.
For the first time, he is facing a particularly energetic candidate backed by a united opposition coalition who has waged a tireless campaign, criss-crossing Venezuela for months.
Chavez leads the majority of the best-known opinion polls, but polls are notoriously controversial and divergent in Venezuela and one major survey has Capriles ahead.
Both sides discount unfavourable polls and insist their candidate is ahead. Late on Friday, Chavez said the opposition planned to cry fraud and would try to destabilize the country - whatever the result of the vote.
“They are getting ready to cry fraud and reject the people’s triumph. I advise them not to dare,” he told a rally in the western mountain city of Merida. “I urge the rational, serious, democratic members of the right to take control.”
The campaign has so far been more peaceful than some Venezuelans had feared, but there remains the risk of a more serious confrontation - possibly over a count contested by either side.
The president routinely accuses the opposition of plotting to scrap his signature social “missions,” including the Mercal chain of subsidized food stores, if Capriles wins the election.
“Who believes the loser’s government would continue the social missions?” Chavez asked in Merida. “Nobody! Would they eliminate Mercal? Of course they would eliminate it!”
In the capital, Caracas, thousands of red-shirted “Chavistas” marched on Saturday in support of the missions, which also include projects to build thousands of homes, as well as make cash payments to pensioners and to poor families with children.
Capriles denies he would cancel any of the programs, but would launch his own and improve the ones the opposition says have been mismanaged by Chavez’s government and are wasteful.
Speaking at the rally in Bolivar state on Saturday, Capriles said he had heard the same stories everywhere he travelled in Venezuela: power cuts, lack of opportunities, fears about crime.
On Friday, Chavez’s government signed a deal with a Chinese company to develop Venezuela’s biggest gold mine, Las Cristinas, in the jungle of Bolivar state. Capriles said he had nothing against the Chinese, or “brothers” from any other country.
“But I want to tell our miners: prepare yourselves. We have enough talent here, these resources belong to Venezuela and will stay here,” he said. “There are just 15 days left (until the election) ... 14 years are enough, 20 years are too many.”
Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; editing by Todd Eastham