Caracas, Venezuela, August 18, 2006—Manuel Rosales and President Hugo Chávez each swore in their campaign teams in separate events on Thursday for the upcoming December 3 presidential elections.
Rosales, 52, and Governor of the state of Zulia, has defeated Chávez’s party in the last two state governor elections. His team will be headed by newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff and also includes Primero Justicia party leader Julio Borges, who will be candidate for vice-president.
Rosales is trying to position himself on the center-left of the political spectrum in terms of economic policy, with poverty and education major concerns. However, he also opposes the hard line against imperialism taken by Chávez, is against providing subsidized fuel to other countries such as Cuba, and rejects what he believes is the militarization of the country.
These policies will certainly appeal to the middle classes, that is, his natural supporters. They are sure to strike a chord, too, in some sections of the poor majority.
“This country is tired of division, of violence, of talk of war, (…), that the country involves itself in the conflicts between other nations…Instead of war planes we want hospitals. We aren’t going to give rifles to the young but computers and grants to let them study,” he said.
However, he was also careful to distance himself from the United States, “The empire has to respect us, but a president mustn’t lack respect for the president of the empire or of another country.”
There are Venezuelans of all classes that are critical of the current administration’s policy of providing financed fuel overseas. Venezuela finances oil at below-market interest rates to Cuba and other Latin American and Caribbean countries. Recently Venezuela also started providing cheap winter fuel to US citizens that live below the poverty line. If Rosales becomes president, these agreements will come to an end, “Not a barrel more, not a dollar more to another country while in Venezuela we are going hungry”, he said.
One of the first measures he says his government will take is the creation of a debit card scheme for families below the poverty line. This will provide the families between $279 and $465 a month for food and other expenses.
He also said “mechanisms” would be activated to “rescue” the National Assembly (national parliament) so that it, in his words, returns to being an autonomous body. No opposition politician sits in the Assembly after they boycotted the elections in December of last year.
The man Rosales has to beat, Hugo Chávez, is also 52 and still the strong favorite to win in December. He completely dismissed Rosales as a serious threat, saying the election was between him and George W. Bush.
Chávez demanded unity and hard work from all those involved in his campaign and urged them to unite round a common theme, “Come with us those that want a truly free and sovereign country and go with the others those that want Venezuela to be once more a US colony.”
One of the main slogans on banners at any Chavista march or event over the last several months has been the campaign for “10 million votes for President Chávez.” Chávez himself sought to dampen expectations of achieving that goal yesterday, saying it was going to be “very difficult” to reach.
While Rosales has had to temporarily resign as governor of the state of Zulia, Chávez will not have to do likewise with the presidency. This drew sharp criticism from Rosales and his campaign team towards the Supreme Court, which made the ruling a few weeks ago, and the National Electoral Council (CNE), which stated that Rosales did not have to resign, but could step down temporarily. Most of the opposition believes the CNE is biased towards Chávez.