“He’s the only one who has really cared about people like us.”
Despite isolated shouting matches between rival political factions, there were no initial reports of violence. On Saturday, at least two Capriles’ supporters were killed in the western state of Barinas after the caravan they were travelling in was attacked, presumably by government supporters. The interior ministry said Sunday it had made an arrest in that case and is investigating.
Capriles seized on the attack to criticize Chávez, who has been ramping up the rhetoric and regularly talks about “knocking out” his “boot-licking” rival.
“Our country is tired of violence, division and confrontation,” Capriles said. “Those...young people didn’t have to die because of someone else’s intolerance.”
Venezuela has the fourth-highest homicide rate in the world after Honduras, El Salvador and Jamaica, according to the United Nations. And while the Chávez administration has rolled out more than a dozen security plans it has failed to make a dent in the crime.
Rafael Botello, 57, said he sent his son abroad after he was almost killed twice during robbery attempts. As he rode his bicycle through the march on Sunday, Botello, a former agronomist, says he holds the administration personally responsible.
“What did we do to Chávez and his people that make them want to destroy us and our families?” he said. “I had to send my son to Los Angeles, but at least I can sleep at night now.”
Capriles, a trained lawyer, emerged as Chávez’s chief rival in February when he swept an opposition primary. Since then, he has spent months barnstorming the nation, visiting towns that rarely see candidates. His staff said he’d traveled to almost 300 communities and looped the nation three times.
“I haven’t seen a campaign like this since perhaps 1963,” said Alfredo Weil, a former member of the national election council, who now runs the election watchdog group Esdata. “The energy he has put in to it is just staggering.”
El Nuevo Herald Reporter Juan Tamayo contributed to this report