AFP: Chavez, Capriles launch Venezuela presidential race
AFP – Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez on Sunday staged a huge rally despite his lingering health problems as he and rival Henrique Capriles formally launched their campaigns ahead of October elections.
After 13 years in power, the firebrand Chavez is facing his first serious election challenge as he vies for a new term that would cement his legacy both at home and as Latin America’s leading leftist in the post-Fidel Castro era.
Chavez — who has been battling cancer for more than a year — could rack up 20 years in office if he is re-elected on October 7 and serves out his full term.
Dressed in a jacket and his trademark red beret, Chavez kicked off his campaign in the town of Mariara in Carabobo state, where he was greeted by a red tide of thousands of supporters who chanted, “Chavez isn’t leaving!”
He then left in an open-top truck — part of a boisterous caravan that travelled 18 kilometers (10 miles) to the nearby town of Maracay, where he delivered a fiery 90-minute speech.
Putting on a show of force to naysayers who have raised doubts about his health, the 57-year-old president sang the national anthem a cappella, accompanied by some of his ministers, before launching into his address.
“I would like to first thank Christ the Redeemer for allowing me to get through this difficult year and be with the Venezuelan people to start this battle,” said Chavez, who insists he is fully recovered and fit to lead.
“We will fight every day, and night after night, to find 10 million votes and give the bourgeoisie another explosive knockout,” he added, describing his opponent as “boring.”
The youthful and telegenic Capriles, 39, is the former governor of Miranda state.
Venezuela’s sometimes fractious opposition has united behind Capriles, who opened his campaign in the remote indigenous community of Kumarakapay near the Brazilian border.
“We will be better because Venezuela deserves to be better,” said Capriles, wearing a native headdress and a shirt bearing the colors of the national flag.
“There is nothing that can beat the storm of progress.”
He was due to travel later to the other end of the country to the town of Guajira in northwestern Zulia state near the Colombian border, in an attempt to show the Chavez government has neglected those areas.
Most opinion polls put Chavez firmly in the lead, but Capriles is counting on undecided voters — estimated at 35 percent of the electorate — to help him win.
Capriles has claimed he will handily defeat Chavez, even predicting a 10-point margin of victory. He has vowed to tackle what he calls the country’s three main problems — poverty, unemployment and violence.
The Venezuelan government has disclosed few details about Chavez’s health. In May, Chavez sought treatment in Cuba, his closest regional ally, after a recurrence of the cancer he first disclosed last year.
Doctors in Havana removed a tumor from his pelvic area last June, but after pronouncing himself fully recovered from cancer, Chavez reported a new lesion in February and returned to Cuba for additional surgery and radiotherapy.
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