CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — On the streets of Venezuela’s capital, six people explain their choices to vote for either President Hugo Chavez or his challenger Henrique Capriles on Sunday:
GUSTAVO CHOURIO, 54
From underneath a bridge, Gustavo Chourio sells used books and promotes the president’s bid for re-election with posters plastered on a concrete wall nearby.
Government workers recently replaced the closet-sized kiosk Chourio used to sell his books and replaced it, along with dozens of others underneath the same bridge, with larger concrete and reinforced steel structures.
Chourio praised Chavez for such efforts to help Venezuelans, and to lift millions of his compatriots out of poverty.
“He’s our savior,” Chourio said. “He has awakened the people and now the people are conscious of what solidarity and compassion truly mean.”
YOLANDA MOLINA, 60
Domestic problems ranging from rampant violent crime to Latin America’s highest inflation rate, along with the president’s caustic attacks on political foes, spurred Yolanda Molina’s antipathy toward Chavez.
Molina said she sees Capriles as the first opposition leader in 13 years who has not been associated with parties that dominated Venezuelan politics before Chavez was first elected in 1998.
The retired secretary criticized the political old guard for failing to wipe out widespread corruption and improve living condition for the poor, opening the way for Chavez’s rise to power.
“Capriles doesn’t represent the old means of practicing politics and he’s very different from Chavez, who is always insulting his adversaries,” Molina said as she sat on a tree-shaded park bench with her pet dog.
CARLOS RIERA, 56
Reading discarded newspapers and begging spare change from pedestrians passing on a trash-strewn avenue, Carlos Riera is a huge Chavez supporter.
Because of a Chavez government program aimed at feeding and sheltering the homeless, the unemployed Riera gets a roof over his head and a hot meal every night.
The former brick mason wears a red T-shirt and a baseball hat emblazoned with images of the Venezuelan president. Riera said he cannot work because of a serious injury that left his right leg permanently impaired, and added that he will be forever thankful to Chavez for getting him off Caracas’ crime-ridden streets.
“He’s given me help and hope, things that nobody else has given me,” said Riera. “I owe Chavez everything.”
MARLY VELASQUEZ, 27
Working alongside other volunteers, Marly Velasquez rolled up posters of Capriles and placed them inside a cardboard box. Fellow campaign workers handed them to pedestrians and motorists passing along a road on Caracas’ outskirts.
Velasquez, a secretary, voiced concerns about widespread crime, sluggish economic growth and political animosity between Venezuelans. She said she’s worried that her 1-year-old son, Juan, will grow up in a deeply divided society if Chavez is re-elected to another six-year term.
“I want my son to live in a different type of country, a country without insults, economic problems and so much crime,” Velasquez said.
Capriles “knows how to respect people without giving any importance to whether one is rich or poor,” she said.
OMAR CRUZ, 19
Outside a bustling supermarket shortly after dusk, Omar Cruz and his friends busily attended to shoppers emerging with carts filled with groceries.
Cruz, who helps shoppers push the carts to their cars for tips, said he is grateful to Chavez for easing the burdens of poverty through dozens of government social programs called “missions.”
“The missions have helped us during difficult times and given us opportunities that we wouldn’t have if Chavez were not our president,” Cruz said.
He said his 55-year-old mother learned to read and write through a Cuban-inspired government literacy program that has reached millions of Venezuelans over the last decade.
JORGE RUEDA, 71
Working with a shopping cart full of oranges and topped with a cutting board, Jorge Rueda sold freshly squeezed juice to people passing by on the sidewalk.
He complained that industrial and agricultural production has fallen significantly under Chavez, reducing job opportunities and increasing consumer prices that have contributed to double-digit inflation.
Rueda said he voted for Chavez in past elections, but stopped supporting the president because he believes the leader has surrounded himself with aides whose only merits are loyalty to the “Bolivarian Revolution,” a political movement Chavez named for 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar.
“Chavez has done many good things but the people surrounding him don’t help, and that has caused many problems,” including an increase in governmental inefficiency, Rueda said.
He said he believes Capriles would be a competent administrator who would appoint experts as ministers.