Venezuela’s Capriles Moves Left But Not Ahead

The liberal opposition candidate has chosen to fight on the ruling party’s terms.

Presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski tries to persuade Venezuelan voters that Hugo Chávez’ heirs are a far cry from the country’s former leader who died early last month but his leftist rhetoric does not appear to increase his popularity.

Capriles lambasted the “skin deep” socialism of the Latin American nation’s ruling party on Wednesday, complaining that officials, including former vice president Nicolás Maduro, his opponent in this month’s election, line their pockets while vowing to defend Chávez’ legacy.

They talk of socialism but it’s on the surface only. Look how those well connected ones live, what they wear, what cars they go round in, how many bodyguards they have.

Capriles’ attack resonates with Venezuelans, including former Chávez supporters, who believe that the party leadership has grown out-of-touch with ordinary voters. But a majority is still prepared to back Maduro, Chávez’ chosen successor, who derides his challenger as a “little bourgeois” and puppet of Venezuela’s wealthy as well as the United States.

The liberal governor now describes himself as a “progressive” and says he would imitate the economic and social reforms of Brazil’s former president Lula da Silva, a socialist who opened his country to international trade and investment while spending generously on education and welfare programs. Capriles even denounced the “savage capitalism” of corrupt government officials.

It hasn’t had much of an effect in the polls, however. By implicitly defending himself against Maduro’s allegations that he is an instrument of the country’s business elite as well as “imperialist” Americans and turning the “capitalist” charge against his opponent, Capriles has chosen to fight on the ruling party’s terms — where he cannot win. Given the choice between a firebrand socialist and a centrist “progressive,” most Venezuelans are likely to opt for the real stuff.