CARACAS -- A deep-red tent promoting the reelection of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, which displayed campaign posters and featured blaring salsa music Friday, has been pitched just steps from the entrance to the headquarters of the government’s tax authority.
Early in the campaign, a pro-Chávez billboard hung from a Caracas courthouse — despite a ban on the use of state resources in politics. It was just across the street from the National Electoral Council (CNE), the very entity charged with catching campaign abuses.
“That one may have been too blatant, because it came down quickly,” said Fernando Alfonzo, a lawyer for the campaign of opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski.
Alfonzo reported Friday that he had filed nearly 100 complaints alleging campaign violations by Chávez supporters that break or bend electoral laws and regulations to tip the playing field in the Oct. 7 ballot toward the president.
Chávez, who has occupied the Miraflores presidential palace since 1999, also has been accused of trying to win voters by stepping up the distribution of state benefits, such as public housing, and staging ceremonies to mark the end of public construction projects.
The number of complaints the Capriles campaign has filed with the CNE against Chávez and his supporters rose from 20 in July to 30 in August and 48 so far this month, Alfonzo said at a news conference.
“The violations have been clear and shameless,” he declared, adding that the president’s campaign, in turn, has filed five complaints against Capriles supporters.
Opposition activists even created a website, ustedabusó.com — meaning you abused — where citizens have posted scores of photos and texts with complaints of abuses by the president and his backers.
The CNE, dominated by Chávez supporters, has ruled on only two of the Capriles complaints so far, and found in favor of the opposition in both. Chávez backers corrected some but not all of the violations in each of those two cases, Alfonzo added.
The facades of government buildings have regularly displayed billboards and other propaganda backing the president, the lawyer alleged, and pro-Chávez political meetings have been held inside state enterprises, such as the national electricity company.
Not far from Alfonzo’s news conference, one of the Chávez tents, which are known as Red Points, stood in the lee of the headquarters of the National Integrated Service for the Administration of Customs Duties and Taxes. Red is the color of the president’s campaign.
A huge canvas with the president’s image also hung Friday from the main building of Petroleos de Venezuela, (PDVSA), the government oil monopoly.
Campaign advertisements have been published in the pro-Chávez mass media without the required Financial Information Registry, which identifies who paid for the ads, Alfonzo noted.
And newspapers often publish more than the legally allowed maximum of one page per edition, he added, displaying one tabloid with four full pages of Chávez ads.
The lawyer also complained that government officials often show up at government events wearing Chávez campaign T-shirts, and that some official Web pages, like those of the Ministry of Housing, regularly post reports on campaign events.
Some of those posts are more discreet, he added, such as the one from a ministry that announced a legitimate government event but in the text managed to use one of the president’s main campaign slogans, “New Homeland.”
Scores of Capriles’ campaign billboards have been defaced or destroyed, Alfonzo added.
Since the campaign began in July, Chávez also has mandated that all TV and radio stations link up in nationwide “chains” to broadcast his speeches for a total of 44 hours and 35 minutes, the lawyer noted.
Such chains are supposed to be limited to presidential remarks, not campaign speeches. Many of them have preempted scheduled Capriles speeches, Alfonzo said.