Opposition Candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski: A Wealthy Lawyer with Little Respect for the Law

Caracas-born Henrique Capriles Radonski is one of the opposition candidates most likely to make it through the primary selection process and face Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in next year’s presidential election.


Former Mayor of the wealthy eastern Caracas neighbourhood of Baruta (2000-2008), Radonski is now Governor of Miranda – with some 2.6 million inhabitants – and is widely popular in opposition circles. He and six others in the opposition’s Mesa de Unidad Democratica (MUD), or Democratic Unity Roundtable in English, are currently engaged in US-backed primaries aimed at helping the opposition win votes before next year’s election.

President Chavez, who is expected to sweep the presidential election, has committed to “push forward and consolidate” the Bolivarian Revolution’s platform of ‘21st Century Socialism’ during his next presidential term (2013-2019).

The Other Model

A strong supporter of free market economics gift-wrapped in social programs designed to avoid social unrest, Radonski’s campaign is based on vague promises of “a better Venezuela”. Questioning the Chavez administration’s interventions in strategic sectors of the economy, Radonski has affirmed repeatedly, “I don’t believe in that model.”

Son of Cristina Radonski Bocheneck and Henrique Capriles Garcia, 39-year-old Radonski was born into a family of significant wealth. His mother’s Radonskis are the owners of CINEZ, Venezuela’s largest chain of private movie theaters, while the Capriles are owners of numerous private media outlets (See: Cadena Capriles) and are said to have important investments in the country’s food processing industries.

Among other things, his parents’ resources allowed Radonski to study law at Caracas’ private Andres Bello Catholic University and participate in numerous international student exchange programs in, for example, Italy and the United States.

Fresh out of college, Radonski dove right into politics and served as legal counsel to Armando Capriles, his cousin and then lawmaker. Providing legal support to his congressmen cousin during the last three years (1995-1998) of the 4th Republic (as the period of time from 1958-1998 is known), Radonski began his political career just as the Bolivarian Revolution’s Hugo Chavez won the first of several presidential victories to come.

Eager to represent his class at a time of heated national debate surrounding Chavez’s proposal for a Constitutional Assembly, Radonski accepted a backdoor nomination from Venezuela’s Social Christian Democrats (COPEI) and won a seat in the 4th Republic’s last existing Congress (1998).

COPEI placed Caracas-based Radonski on the ballot to represent Maracaibo, capital of Zulia, where the party had a strong base of support at the time. A trained lawyer, Radonski was sure to respect existing electoral laws by renting an apartment in Maracaibo during the course of the election.

Justice When?

A year after the Venezuelan people voted to approve the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic (1999), Radonski and a handful of other opposition politicians launched a new party based in and around the nation’s capital. Named Primero Justicia, or Justice First in English, the party received significant financial and strategic support from the United States and helped Radonski win the mayoralty of Baruta, a wealthy neighbourhood in eastern Caracas.

According to investigative journalist Eva Golinger, in the year 2001 Radonski’s nascent party was the principal beneficiary of funds channeled to Venezuela by the US-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and International Republican Institute (IRI). That year, the IRI spent $340,000 “training” members of Justice First and others of the country’s anti-Chavez minority on “external party communication and coalition building”, among other topics of US concern.

Two years later, Radonski’s Justice First had grown into small but national party. As Mayor of Baruta (2000-2008), Radonski made national headlines after he was filmed illegally climbing over Cuban embassy walls during the April 2002 coup d’etat against the democratically elected Chavez government.

During the short-lived coup, staff of the Cuban embassy (located in Baruta) called Mayor Radonski’s office for police support after protestors gathered outside the premises cut the water and electricity and threatened to storm the building. Instead of coming to the aid of the besieged diplomats, Radonski briefly joined the protestors before climbing over embassy walls in pursuit of Chavez administration officials.

As Golinger notes in her book, The Chavez Code, “Radonski violated diplomatic law by forcing entry into the embassy, where he attempted to persuade Cuban Ambassador German Sanchez Otero to turn in Vice President Diosdado Cabello and other Chavez government officials whom the opposition believed were taking refuge in the embassy”.

“Though Ambassador Sanchez Otero permitted Capriles Radonski on the premises to engage in dialogue”, explains Golinger, “he made it clear that the actions were violating diplomatic law”.

“The Primero Justicia mayor attempted to force a search of the inside of the embassy by threatening the ambassador that the situation would only worsen if a full search were not allowed. When the ambassador stood firm, Capriles Radonski left the embassy”.

Unsuccessful in his search attempt, Radonski left the embassy and allowed protests to continue as they were, abandoning the Cuban diplomats and their request for help. Fortunately, massive pro-Chavez demonstrations reversed the short-lived coup before things got worse.

Candidate Capriles

Governor of Miranda since 2008, Radonski has found it difficult to defend his market based, welfare state ideology in the context of the Bolivarian Revolution’s widely effective and mass social ‘missions’.

His campaign of “There is Only One Way” promises “solutions to all of Venezuela’s problems” and, referring to the Chavez administration’s policies of bi-national and regional integration efforts, an end to “gifts abroad”.

“To reduce the cost of living”, Radonski tried explaining, “we need to change the model, this model in which the State is the owner of everything and ends up with power but doesn’t create opportunities”.

Ignoring the fact that Venezuelan GDP rose 4% this year, Radonski’s campaign has chosen instead to question the legitimacy of data released by the Venezuelan Central Bank (BCV). This data, released in November, shows that third quarter economic growth in 2011 was widespread, with telecommunications increasing by 7.9%, mining 7.6%, transport 6.6%, community social services by 4.6%, and manufacturing by 2.1%.

In construction, for example, the Chavez administration spent all of 2011 financing both public and private housing initiatives, the result of which was the successful completion of some 100,000 newly-built homes.

Stimulating a 10% growth in the construction sector, public construction projects accounted for 62% of developments while the private sector contributed the remaining 38%.

Radonski claims these figures are false, but has presented no alternate data to back his position.