Venezuela’s Oct. 7 elections are looming and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, 40, has been barnstorming the country to shore up votes. The majority of polls still have President Hugo Chávez, 58, ahead but there are also signs that the race is tightening in the home stretch. The Miami Herald caught up with Capriles on the campaign trail earlier this month in northern Venezuela.
MH: Despite the energy and the crowds you’ve seen, Chávez insists there’s no way you can win.
HC: He’s never going to admit that he might lose. It’s not his style. But Chávez doesn’t intimidate me with his threats. I know his type very well. With all their talk of an “irreversible” lead and “we’re going to win” they are trying to create this sense, particularly outside the country, that they’re going to win.
MH: But many of the polls give Chávez the lead. Do you have polls you trust?
HC: I believe in my polls, which I don’t release. I’ve used them my entire career and I’ve never lost an election. My polls say that we are in the final phase of a process where we can beat the government by a 10-point difference.
Making sense out of the polls
MH: And when did you pull into the lead, according to those polls?
HC: About a month ago. We were 10 points behind at one point. You can see it in the government’s attitude, using supposed members of the opposition to say that we’re [secretly plotting] to roll out [unpopular] economic reforms. But the state with the most social spending in the whole country was probably mine [Miranda State] when I was governor. I dedicated 70 percent of the budget toward education. You can’t get more socially oriented than that.
MH: If you do win, how are you going to make sure the government acknowledges the results?
HC: I have never lost an election because I have always guarded my votes. If you neglect a voting center or one of the election tables then they’re going to roll over you [at that location] and you will lose 100 to zero.
MH: So your strategy is to have the voting centers covered?
HC: We have to build a wave or popular force, which we’re really building for the first time now. This is our best chance to win in the last 14 years of this government. We have beaten the administration before, but we’ve never had such good conditions.
MH: And what about the independence of the National Election Council?
HC: The [Council] does what Chávez wants it to do. But the one thing it cannot do is proclaim Chávez president if he doesn’t have the votes. There’s no escaping the reality of the votes.
MH: If you take power Jan. 10, how do you run a country when all the other powers of state are stacked against you?
HC: This country is going to see its political reality change. And that change is going to benefit a lot of institutions. There are many people in public institutions who are waiting until Oct. 8 to take off their red [pro-Chávez] shirts…As for not having a majority in congress that’s simply part of democracy.
In the spirit of reconciliation?
MH: You’ve talked about being the president of all Venezuelans and told Chávez supporters they have nothing to fear from your administration. In the spirit of reconciliation would there be room for high-ranking Chávistas in your cabinet?