CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition presidential candidate chided Hugo Chavez on Sunday for publicly weeping over the loss of freedom he has had to contend with during his 14 years in power, all part of an increasingly dramatic campaign ahead of the October 7 vote.
Facing his toughest-ever re-election challenge, socialist “revolutionary” Chavez teared up during a televised speech on Saturday, lamenting the loss of his freedom to roam anonymously through Venezuela’s towns and countryside.
Henrique Capriles, the business-friendly candidate seeking to unseat Chavez, told a rally that the incumbent should not be crying for himself but for the Venezuelans who have suffered rising crime and economic mismanagement under his rule.
“Yesterday the government’s candidate cried because he wants to be free. He cried for himself,” Capriles told thousands of supporters at a campaign event in the Petare neighborhood of Caracas, one of the biggest slums in South America.
“Who cries for the mothers mourning over their children killed by violence? Who cries when there’s not enough food to feed their families?” Capriles said. “There is nothing worse than messianic politics.”
Wall Street expects Venezuelan bond prices to jump if Capriles wins. Also in play on October 7 is control of the world’s biggest crude reserves and the future of state oil company PDVSA, a top supplier of energy to the United States.
Most of the best-known pollsters put Chavez ahead by 10 points or more. But opinion polls are notoriously controversial and divergent in Venezuela.
Capriles’ numbers have crept up in recent weeks. One major pollster on Friday put him just ahead of Chavez, 48.1 percent to 46.2 percent - neck-and-neck given the margin of error.
Capriles’ street rally on Sunday was his first since rival supporters threw stones ahead of a campaign event on September 12, at which a pickup truck carrying opposition campaign materials was set on fire.
Some glass bottles were thrown at Capriles supporters during Sunday’s rally but his security detail quickly restored order.
Chavez, who has battled cancer over the past year, is known for long speeches during which he often bursts into song and digresses into the folksy anecdotes that have endeared him to many of the country’s poor.
But Saturday’s lament for his lost liberty caught his audience of supporters by surprise during an event in the southwestern cattle-ranching town of San Fernando.
“If it were up to me, you know I’d get down off this stage, and I’d go walking, as in times past,” he said, his voice quivering and tears rolling down his cheek.
“My last dream is to free myself ... free myself of all of this, but only after we have made the country that we dream of a reality,” Chavez said at the emotional high point of Saturday’s address.
Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Eric Beech