CARACAS Oct 6 Opposition leader Henrique
Capriles accused Venezuela's "incompetent" President Nicolas
Maduro on Sunday of bankrupting the nation in an increasingly
radical blame-game over the OPEC member's economic distortions.
Since late socialist leader Hugo Chavez died of cancer in
February, the economy has joined crime as Venezuelans' top
concerns. Prices are soaring at an annualized 45 percent, a
black market for dollars is booming, and basic goods from flour
to toilet-paper are often scarce.
A self-declared "son" of Chavez, the 50-year-old Maduro says
local opponents, backed by the United States and cheered by
compliant foreign media, are deliberately "sabotaging" the
economy in an attempt to bring down his government.
"There's a criminal war against the Venezuelan people. They
want to lead us to chaos, division and confusion," he again said
at the weekend, accusing three just-expelled U.S. diplomats of
lending cash, logistics and planning to the cause against him.
Capriles, who narrowly lost an April vote to Maduro and has
refused to recognize him, said the president's tolerance of
corruption among his team, adherence to a failed socialist
model, and personal incapacity, were to blame.
Though said by one fellow opposition leader this week to be
facing imminent arrest by the government, Capriles, 40, held
nothing back in a blistering Sunday column.
"I warn you, Nicolas," he said, using the informal Spanish
"tu" not the "usted" a president would usually be addressed by.
"We're not going to let the country go off a cliff due to
your incompetence and the corrupt ones you protect ... You
cannot hide the fact you have bankrupted one of the richest
nations in the region, and during an oil bonanza."
Referring to reports of dissent in the ruling Socialist
Party, Capriles taunted Maduro: "Someone who doesn't even have
the trust of his own militants is hardly going to have the trust
of the nation he pretends to govern.
"Neither this invention of the economic war nor the
political smokescreens they seek abroad to blame others for
their disaster are working."
Pollsters say both Maduro and Capriles' approval ratings are
down from their April vote levels of 50.6 and 49.1 respectively,
and many Venezuelans are simply fed up with the political
polarization they had hoped might diminish after Chavez.
Both men are rallying supporters ahead of Dec. 8 regional
elections that will be a test of Maduro's standing and
Venezuelans' confidence in his ability to fix the economy.
Capriles, who governs Miranda state, has taken a
confrontational line since an election loss he attributed to
fraud. Officials accuse him of fomenting post-election violence
that killed nine people, and there are constant rumors he may be
detained and charged over that.
Like the government, the opposition Democratic Unity
coalition is also beset by talk of divisions, especially over
the issue of how to confront the Maduro government. Some
opposition leaders want a campaign of street protests and more
open defiance, though in the past that failed against Chavez.
With Monday the anniversary of Chavez's last presidential
election victory against Capriles on Oct. 7 2012, the government
has called supporters onto the streets to march in his memory.
State TV on Sunday was re-running one of Chavez's famous,
rambling "Hello, President!" programs.
In what promises to be a politically charged week, Maduro
plans to go to parliament on Tuesday to seek extraordinary
decree powers used by his predecessor several times.
The president says he needs them to pass economic and
anti-corruption measures, but opponents say it is a sign of
autocratic rule. Maduro appears to have the two-thirds votes
needed for the measure to be passed in the National Assembly.
The president announced a 10 percent wage rise for public
workers on Saturday, and is promising measures soon to improve
access to foreign currency for dollar-starved importers.