(Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles defines himself as a center-left “progressive” follower of the business-friendly but socially-conscious Brazilian economic model.
He faces President Hugo Chavez in an October 7 election.
Here are some of his main policy positions:
* Capriles denies the opposition wants to privatize state oil company PDVSA as some “Chavista” officials have alleged. He insists the vast energy enterprise will remain in government hands if he wins power. He has, however, vowed that PDVSA will be “de-politicized” with the replacement of politically-aligned managers by the best professionals available.
* Like the government, Capriles wants the OPEC nation to hike oil production to fund development. But beyond talking about wooing more foreign investment and accelerating projects in the huge Orinoco Belt, he is vague about how to achieve that. He frequently cites Norway as an example of a nation that has used its oil riches properly to diversify the economy.
* Capriles opposes Chavez’s decision to pull Venezuela out of the World Bank’s ICSID arbitration court where U.S. oil giants Exxon Mobil Corp and ConocoPhillips are seeking billions in compensation for 2007 nationalizations.
* Capriles says he would not immediately raise the price of gasoline, which for years has been the cheapest in the world due to big government subsidies. The subject is a touchy one for Venezuelans who remember deadly riots over price hikes in 1989. Capriles has said he would start a debate about the issue with an eye to eventually increasing fuel costs.
* Capriles opposes more nationalizations, but said sweeping takeovers carried out by the Chavez government since 1999 cannot be undone overnight. Rather, he has said each of the hundreds of companies and projects taken over should be studied case-by-case to see if there is justification for returning businesses to private hands or setting up some form of joint ownership with workers.
* Development of the economy, Capriles says, can only be done when the fear of nationalizations has gone. He cites the failure to develop tourism in Venezuela - despite its extraordinary natural beauty from Caribbean coastlines to Amazon jungle and Andean mountains - as a classic example of the deterrent effect of takeovers. “No one here even wants to build a hostel for tourists ... The owners are scared that a minister will go one day, and he won’t like the coffee, and they’ll be expropriated.”
* Capriles says the two-tier currency controls in existence - three-tier if the black market is included - have not achieved their aim of slowing inflation or preventing capital flight. Their removal, however, cannot be rapid and depends on the creation of investor confidence and economic stability under a post-Chavez government, he said.
* All pre-Chavez and Chavez-era debt, whether in local bolivars or foreign currency, would be respected, Capriles says, even though he criticizes the current government for borrowing far more than he says the nation needs.
* While most opposition candidates have made a point of highlighting crime as Venezuela’s main problem, Capriles has made education his flagship policy, pointing to a strong record of opening new schools in Miranda state. “Proper education is the long-term solution to our crime phenomenon,” he said.
* He does, however, also lambaste the government’s failure to stem violent crime levels that terrify Venezuelans and visitors alike, leaving statistics on a par with some war zones. “The central government has delivered 18 security plans - all of them have failed. Pure politicking,” he scoffs.
* He applauds Chavez’s commitment to building clinics and schools in low-income areas to offer free services, but says the programs have been chaotically and often corruptly administered. He proposes keeping the best of Chavez’s much-vaunted “Missions” for the poor, while administering them better to ensure they really benefit the most needy.
* Capriles’ camp plans to eliminate off-budget funds, such as Fonden, used to finance state welfare policies.
* Capriles vows to prioritize relationships with countries in the Americas and “democratic” nations, as opposed to Chavez’s ties with politically-allied governments often far away and with questionable rights records such as Iran or Belarus.
* Despite that, China will remain an essential partner of Venezuela, he says. “No one in the world can do without China.”
* Capriles sees no need to cut relations with Cuba, where Chavez has had a particularly close relationship with the communist government, but he says ties must be put on a transparent footing. He has implied that the thousands of Cubans in Venezuela - from shantytown doctors to intelligence and security advisers - should be replaced by Venezuelans, and said the country should revise its agreement to supply oil to Cuba on preferential terms. “We will not give away oil to anyone, but neither will we stop selling to anyone.”
* During the campaign, he plans to visit Brazil, Colombia, Spain and Brussels.
* Capriles has been guarded on the delicate topic of Venezuela’s armed forces. Chavez is a former soldier and has packed the senior ranks with his supporters, especially after a brief, military-led coup against him in 2002.
* Capriles said the vast majority of soldiers simply want a stable, democratic Venezuela, and he believes the armed forces will stand by the result of the October 7 vote, whichever way it goes.
Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Kieran Murray