Venezuela opposition rallies despite dismal expectations
CARACAS — A general expectation that Hugo Chavez's hand-picked successor will win next weekend's presidential election didn't dim the spirits of more than 100,000 backers of challenger Henrique Capriles, who jammed the capital's center on Sunday.
Most of the people who converged by foot in the city center on a hot, sunny afternoon tried to shrug off forecasts of victory for Nicolas Maduro, who was sworn in as acting president when Hugo Chavez died March 5 following a long battle with cancer.
Capriles said the big turnout in the capital was evidence that he'd win at the ballot box on Sunday.
“Today the streets of Caracas were filled with happiness, today the streets of Caracas were filled with hope, today the streets of Caracas confirm what's going to happen,” Capriles said.
Chavez had defeated Capriles in October, but by the slimmest margin of his 14-year tenure as president.
Maduro, who rose from bus driver and union organizer to foreign minister under Chavez, is expected to benefit from an emotional outpouring of solidarity among Chavistas who have benefited from the generous social welfare state he created under the socialist banner.
But many critics contend that Maduro has been saddled with a fiscal hangover because of heavy Chavez spending before October's vote.
Jesus Barroso, a 52-year-old retiree, said he believes Maduro will win handily next Sunday. But he predicted Maduro would not be able complete the six-year term because economic and social woes would prompt Venezuelans to remove him through a recall.
“I don't think he'll last very long in the presidency,” Barroso said.
Supporters of Capriles chanted anti-government slogans and waved red, yellow and blue Venezuelan flags as they converged on a main avenue in downtown Caracas.