Nestor Rojas Mavares*
HAVANA TIMES — From the tone of the political debate between Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Henrique Capriles, you’d think there’s a election campaign underway, while eyes remain fixed on the facility where President Hugo Chavez remains hospitalized.
In their latest verbal exchange, Maduro called Capriles the “prince of the bourgeoisie” and accused him of conspiring against the government, while Capriles labeled the VP a “liar” for claiming that Chavez continues to carry out his presidential duties from a military hospital bed.
All of this amid a wave of rumors about the supposed serious condition of the president, who’s about to mark three months since his last direct contact with the people following his latest cancer operation, which took place on December 11.
Although the virtual electoral scenario continues to unfold, no one in the official ruling circles has raised the possibility of declaring Chavez’s absence as permanent, which would trigger a call for another presidential election within a month.
In contrast, the government in charge, particularly Maduro, is claiming that Chavez is carrying out his functions as head of state and is the key decision maker.
“President Chavez is kept informed and is in control. Commander Chavez is the supreme commander of the Bolivarian Revolution,” he said Saturday.
On December 8, Chavez himself had raised the possibility of another election when he announced to the country that he would again undergo an operation in Havana. At that time he asked his followers to vote for Maduro in case he became incapacitated and his condition required new elections.
In recent months, Maduro has maintained a presence in the media, obligating all of the country’s radio and television stations to broadcast official messages, a resource that Chavez used since he took office in 1999.
In each of his media appearances, the vice president has devoted segments of his speeches to rail against Capriles and the opposition alliance Mesa de Unidad Democratica (MUD), accusing them of harboring the worst sentiments towards Chavez and the country.
On Saturday, Maduro criticized the “prince of the bourgeoisie” for having traveled to the United States to meet with the “Miami Mafia,” directed by former US officials Otto Reich and Roger Noriega.
He also said Capriles was in New York “hanging out with a well trusted friend” and meeting with enemies of the Bolivarian government, although Capriles announced on Twitter that his trip was only to Miami.
Previously, Maduro described Capriles as the “marshal of defeat,” referring to the October 7 election in which he lost to Chavez.
“They (the opposition) are fighting to see who will be the candidate. The prince of the bourgeoisie is desperate for political support from the opposition,” he said, adding that the private media doesn’t touch Capriles “even with a rose petal” for his alleged mistakes as governor of the central state of Miranda.
Maduro had previously questioned the trip Capriles took in January to Colombia, where he met with former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez.
Capriles, who maintains support from MUD for being its standard bearer in case of elections, has lashed out at Maduro over his announcements concerning the president’s health.
“We’re going to see how they explain to the country in the next few days all the lies that have been told about the situation of the president. Maduro has repeatedly misled the president’s followers and Venezuelans about the real situation of the president,” said Capriles.
The former presidential candidate said Maduro “had lied” about Chavez’s health and it’s not true that he had a five-hour meeting with the president last week at the Military Hospital in Caracas.
This week, Capriles said he plans to travel across the country, within his policy proposals, while MUD began discussions around a candidate and the electoral conditions that they will demand in case of a referendum.
“For political reasons they’re hiding the truth from us, which was revealed when the new electoral period starts. Maduro hasn’t ceased to present himself as a presidential candidate, while Capriles is doing the same as hasten events,” said political analyst Fausto Masso.
Over the past several days, opposition demonstrations by university student have increased demanding Chavez appear and be sworn in for the 2013-2019 term of office for which he was reelected in October.
“Tell the truth,” read banners carried by a group of young people in a residential town east of Caracas.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the analysis distributed in Spanish by dpa news agency.