By Luis Andres Henao Associated Press
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s opposition candidate in next month’s presidential election criticized President Hugo Chavez on Sunday for crying during a speech and saying he missed having the freedom to roam the country in anonymity.
Chavez choked up on Saturday in an emotional speech, where he said he has endured personal sacrifices during the more than 13 years of his political project. He remembered bucolic days before he was president of this nation of 29 million people, when he roamed free through Venezuela’s countryside.
“If it were up to me I would come down from this stage and would walk again, as I used to before, the streets of San Fernando de Apure,” Chavez told a crowd in the cattle-ranching city located in “Los Llanos,” the sparsely populated plains that spread through most of central Venezuela from the Orinoco River to the Andes.
But Henrique Capriles says Chavez should stop weeping for his lack of free time. Instead, he should shed tears for all the Venezuelan mothers who have lost children to violent crime.
“Who cries for the mothers who mourn their children killed by the criminal underworld? Or for the families that can’t get food and medicine? Or for those who suffer violence in prison?” Capriles said in a campaign speech in Petare, one of Latin America’s biggest and most dangerous slums.
The Justice Ministry says more than 14,000 people were slain last year in Venezuela. The homicide rate is 50 homicides per 100,000 people, one of the highest in the world.
Human rights groups say the number of killings inside Venezuela’s prisons spiked this year even as Chavez faces increased pressure to curb the violence in the last month of his campaign for re-election to another six-year term.
Capriles has pledged to combat crime, which according to polls is a top concern for Venezuelans. He has also vowed to provide people with more jobs and better electricity and water services after years of decaying infrastructure.
Many poor families have benefited from Chavez’s social programs funded by the country’s rich oil industry. But Venezuelans still suffer from insecurity, scarcity of some medicines and food products and one of the world’s highest inflation rates.
Although Chavez is up in most recent polls, one survey last month put the two candidates roughly even ahead of the Oct. 7 vote.
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao