After fourteen years of ruling Venezuela and pushing his agenda of a Bolivarian revolution, Hugo Chavez finds himself facing one of his toughest opponents, Henrique Capriles.
Henrique Capriles is a 40 year-old politician, who first ran for office at the age of 26, and in the process, became the youngest MP elected to office in Venezuela, reports The Telegraph
, Washington Post
and FoxNews Latino
While Hugo Chavez utilizes the oil wealth of the nation to promote self serving social programs for his supporters, Capriles has run an intensely energetic campaign since July, and has campaigned in more than 250 communities in that period of time.
As a self admitted workaholic who only sleeps four hours each night, Capriles is also an amateur marathon runner, hence his nickname "El Flaco", which is Spanish for thin. During his 12 hour campaign day he may visit several towns across the country and while riding around on the top of a pick-up truck he tosses out tri-colored baseball caps to the crowds.
The campaign hasn't been without problems though, supporters of Chavez, "Chavistas" have occasionally tried to stop the procession of Capriles' campaign tours, and there have been shots fired at some supporters. Two of Capriles' supporters were shot to death by Chavistas near Barinas in the central plains area southwest of the capital, Caracas, as reported at the Huffington
While the social programs of Chavez have offered aid for the people living in the slums of Venezuela, long term solutions for the endemic unemployment and miserable living conditions have seemingly left many of Chavez's former supporters disillusioned.
One such slum dweller from the Petare slum in Caracas is Liliana Carias, who voted for Chavez in the three previous elections.
"We need change," Carias said as the [Caprile] drum-beating caravan paraded by. "I thought it would come with Chavez but I'm very disappointed. He promised us everything but nothing changed. I still don't have running water, sewer or electricity."
With inflation at 18%, one of the world's highest murder rates and long running housing shortages, many of the working poor and lower class population have turned away from their unwavering support of Chavez.
While one recent poll, placed Chavez at 46%, and Capriles at 46.5%, those respondents who were allowed to answer the question in secret gave Capriles a 49% to 46% lead over Chavez.
Capriles has proposed several solutions to the lack of progress Venezuela has undergone since Chavez' Bolivarian revolution began. The reforms run from immediately halting the free and/or deeply discounted oil sales to Cuba and Nicaragua, both close Socialist allies of Chavez, to revisiting the 'land reform' appropriation of private farm lands which Chavez undertook.
Capriles notes that while Venezuela has 30 million hectares of farmland, there is now only approximately 10% of the land in production, and Venezuela now imports as much as 80% of its food supplies.
"Chavez has had 14 years and things aren't any better. He has failed. 14 years is enough. This country is desperate for change."
October 7 will reveal whether or not Venezuela is ready for a change from an apparently stalled Socialist utopia to a nation with the oil revenues to engage in the lifting of the lower class population into a 21st century version of higher expectations.
No matter the outcome, the race being run by the Marathon Man is a very different challenge than any Hugo Chavez has faced in fourteen years.