KPCC's Ruxandra Guidi
Off-Ramp host John Rabe gets the lowdown on Sunday's Presidential election in Venezuela from KPCC's Ruxandra Guidi. Guidi says Venezuelans in Southern California have to go to San Francisco if they want to vote, and many she spoke with are doing so. (Can you imagine Americans driving 5 hours to vote in November?)
Longtime President Hugo Chavez is facing his stiffest challenge from rival Henrique Capriles, who says the Chavez government has failed to solve basic problems ... like a soaring murder rate, sporadic blackouts, and poorly equipped hospitals.
Chavez pledged to redouble his efforts to create a socialist system if re-elected, saying the next six-year term would bring bigger changes. Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has increased the government's role in the economy and has nationalized private businesses including cement plants, banks and retail stores. He has also used the country's oil wealth to bankroll social programs including cash benefits for poor families and state-run grocery stores.
"We've laid the foundations of 21st century socialism and today we launch, well, the second cycle," Chavez said. "We'll launch the second socialist cycle, from 2013 to 2019, with much more strength."
Chavez spoke while rallying a crowd in his native town of Sabaneta in the country's rural western plains. He nostalgically recalled selling sweets in the town plaza as a boy, and he broke into song while addressing supporters.
He waved to supporters from an open jeep on the way to another town.
Rival candidate Henrique Capriles has ridiculed Chavez for claiming to pursue socialist policies. And
Chavez has recently acknowledged that some may have complaints about his government, such as waiting for public housing or coping with sporadic power outages in some areas. But he's warned that the country's independence is at stake, describing Capriles' proposals as pro-wealthy, "neoliberal," and in line with U.S. interests.
Capriles rejects those labels, saying he would maintain social programs for the poor while welcoming private investment.
Speaking in Cojedes state, the president told a crowd of supporters: "Chavez has never failed you, and Chavez never will fail you."
Capriles said in a news conference on Monday that he has already chosen a vice president and a defense minister, saying his choice to lead the armed forces is an active general. He said he would reveal their names after the vote.
Some polls ahead of the election found Chavez with a lead of about 10 percentage points, while other surveys showed the two candidates roughly even.