* Campaign heats up with less than one month to Oct. 7 vote
* Chavez says he guarantees prosperity for wealthy voters
* Opponent Capriles appeals to poor in new TV spot
By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS, Sept 10 Venezuela's famously
anti-capitalist president, Hugo Chavez, has urged rich voters to
back him or face "civil war," while his opponent sought to
reassure the poor he will not abandon popular socialist welfare
policies if he wins next month's election.
Chavez, 58, and Henrique Capriles, 40, face off in an Oct. 7
vote for the presidency of the South American nation of 29
million people, which has the world's largest oil reserves and
is a financier of leftist governments around the region.
Though Chavez leads the majority of Venezuela's best-known
polls, Capriles' numbers have been creeping up in recent weeks
and he is just ahead in a couple of them, leaving each side to
believe it has a strong chance of winning the presidency.
Having made a political career of bashing the rich for all
Venezuela's ills - and indeed the world's - the socialist Chavez
turned to them in a campaign speech late on Sunday, warning
wealthy voters they should back him if they wanted stability.
"The rich families have their families, fine houses, good
vehicles, probably an apartment at the beach, properties and so
on. They like to travel abroad for holidays," he told a rally.
"Does a civil war suit them? Not at all. It only suits the
extreme, fascist right embodied by the loser. It's in the
interests of the peace-loving rich for Chavez to win, and I
invite them to vote for Chavez on October 7. Chavez guarantees
peace, stability and economic growth."
Chavez does not use Capriles' name in public, routinely
referring to him with the insulting epithet "majunche," which
can be loosely translated as "loser," and insisting his
supporters have violent plans to end socialism in Venezuela.
The opposition dismisses Chavez's frequent comments about
possible civil war as irresponsible scaremongering, pointing out
Chavez himself led a failed military coup in 1992.
The president remains immensely popular among Venezuela's
poor, in part because of his own humble roots and folksy style,
and also due to oil-funded welfare projects like subsidized food
stores, and free healthcare and education.
In a campaign projecting his energy and attention to
day-to-day problems, state Governor Capriles has been
crisscrossing Venezuela, visiting hundreds of towns and
villages, especially those where support for Chavez is
On Sunday night, in a message broadcast on private TV
channels, Capriles tackled head-on one of the main fears of
traditional Chavez supporters - that he will abandon the social
"missions" that are the president's flagship policy.
"My commitment is to create new missions, keep the current
ones and improves those which don't work," Capriles said, noting
that as Miranda governor he ran a "Zero Hunger Plan" providing
food for thousands, as well as improving schools and clinics.
A lawyer by training but a professional politician since his
mid-20s, Capriles unexpectedly beat a heavyweight Chavez ally to
win the Miranda governorship in 2008 and has won wide respect
for his work there since.
Though U.N. data back the government's line that poverty has
been reduced under Chavez, the opposition says he should, in
fact, have achieved far more in terms of social welfare given
the bonanza of oil revenues since he took office in 1999.
"A while ago, we proposed a Missions Law, so that they do
not depend on the government of the moment and reach all needy
Venezuelans, irrespective of their political color," Capriles
Specifically, the subsidized Mercal food chain should be
expanded to end long lines and offer greater variety, while slum
clinics currently staffed by Cuban doctors should also be opened
to local medics, he said in his TV message.
Polls are notoriously controversial and divergent in
Venezuela. Among the myriad public opinion companies, respected
Datanalisis put Chavez ahead by 12 points in July. Another
well-known pollster, Consultores 21, has Capriles just ahead.
Despite predictions by some of a violent election campaign
in Venezuela, where society is both deeply polarized and awash
with guns, there have only been a few incidents in the last few
months of shootings or scuffles.
Underlining the potential for trouble, however, Capriles
canceled a weekend visit to a Caracas slum, alleging that armed
government gangs were waiting for him there.