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Capriles ‘not scared’ as he prepares to face Chávez

CARACAS — Henrique Capriles Radonski, the 39-year-old governor of Miranda state, prides himself on never having lost an election. But as he takes on President Hugo Chávez in the Oct. 7 presidential race, he will be facing a 13-year incumbent with the resources of an oil-rich nation behind him.

On Monday, the day after sweeping an opposition primary that anointed him the sole candidate to face Chávez, Capriles said the country’s hunger for change is stronger than the government’s might.

“We’re not scared of the government’s resources or the loyalties they’ve bought,” he said. “When you have the people with you, there’s not an economic or political power that can be an obstacle.”

Dressed in a grey jacket and under tight security, Capriles vowed to forge a united nation that was blind to political ideology.

“In my administration, it won’t matter what color of shirt you wear,” he said — a dig at Chávez supporters who often don red.

Capriles’ stump speech about socially responsible capitalism and depoliticizing government struck a cord in this South American nation that has grown polarized under Chávez’s 13-year rule. More than 2.9 million people went to the polls on Sunday, giving Capriles 62 percent of the vote in a five-way race.

The other four candidates have pledged to back the youthful governor. It was a milestone for an opposition whose infighting has played into Chávez’s hands for more than a decade.

Rehashing many of his campaign speeches, Capriles said education and decentralization would be key to jumpstarting the economy and creating the environment to take the edge off rampant crime.

While he has tipped his hat to Chávez for recognizing the plight of the poor, he said the government’s attempts to ameliorate the situation have failed. The government has relied on handouts but fallen down on education and creating an environment where jobs are available.

He said public sector jobs were doled out as political favors, leaving many disenfranchised.

“We have to create jobs,” he said. “The person who has a job will never have hunger knocking on their door.”

Chávez’s penchant for expropriations and price controls is also failing, he said.

Over the last decade, the government has nationalized and confiscated businesses as it has tired to clamp down on runaway inflation and gin up production. Capriles said the expropriations have failed.

“They have turned expropriations into a political tool: ‘If you behave bad, we’ll expropriate you. If you behave well, we’ll give you a few slaps but keep you threatened,’ ” he said.

Capriles admitted he had a tough road ahead, but said Chávez was tired and out of touch. Rather than talk to Venezuelans, he preferred to hold hours-long press conferences and buy foreign allies with Venezuela’s oil riches, he said.

“I don’t want to be the leader of the world,” Capriles said. “I just want to be the leader of my country.”