Things are heating up in the centre of Caracas. The heat is sweltering and Venezuela’s presidential elections are fast approaching on 14 April. It is hard to find a quiet moment in between the seemingly endless ‘red points’ which hand out posters and information in support of Nicolás Maduro’s election campaign.
However, Henrique Capriles too has his supporters, who are intent on speaking out against what they see as an undemocratic government. In Plaza Candelaria, 18-year-old Yelis, is working handing out Capriles’ leaflets, but she agrees to take a few minutes out to be interviewed.
‘This government isn’t democratic, because they use power and they use the people. They want to make a revolution and they criticize capitalism, but they are the capitalists. I think that Capriles has better intentions than the government does,’ she tells me.
‘What is your opinion of capitalism?’ I ask.
‘I think capitalism is a good thing and can help provide give people the opportunity to work. This government talks about a revolution based on equality, but equality isn’t the same thing is justice. Because there are some people who work really hard for many hours, and the government want to take their money away and give it to people who don’t work at all.
‘For example, the system of the misiones [Bolivarian missions] needs to change. There is one called Mision Vivienda, which is a government programme that builds houses and gives them to people who have lost their homes or have problems, but it isn’t just that, because if you get an apartment from the Mision, you have to vote for the government! It’s like buying peoples votes. They don’t vote for the government because they like them, but because if they don’t they can’t get a home.’
‘But how does the government know who they are going to vote for?’ I reply.
‘Well, people are scared that they’re going to lose their job or home if they don’t vote for the government. For example, my dad lost his job just because he voted against the government!’
It’s difficult to know how to get to the bottom of such a claim, especially when it is presented without evidence to support it. Despite Yelis’ view that the system of voting doesn’t work, it is votes for Capriles on Sunday that she is campaigning for.
‘I think we need to improve our relations with the US. What happened is that Chavez was always criticizing the ‘Yankee capitalists’, but the government were still buying clothes and everything.
‘In truth, I really think that Capriles is going to win. Maduro doesn’t want to improve the country.’
This overwhelming confidence has been prevalent amongst opposition supporters in the run-up to the elections, not least due to the rhetoric of their presidential candidate. I ask Yelis what has changed since the last election, only six months ago, when Capriles was badly beaten.
‘Well he’s made the same campaign as last time, but this time he’s speaking more to the people’ she explains. ‘In every state he’s visited, Capriles is talking more about people’s problems, with the lights and with jobs, and he’s proposing more solutions.’
In the La Paz Mision Vivienda complex, there are two huge blocks of brand-new apartments with a children’s playground in front. Although progress hasn’t been as quick as hoped in a country with a severe shortage of housing, this week alone has seen hundreds of bungalows being delivered to families from the poorest sections of society in several states. Here, I come across a different set of opinions.
‘If I tell you how we were living before,’ says Paola, a woman in her late forties, ‘you won’t even believe me.’
When I ask how things would change if Capriles were to win the elections, I am met with radiant smiles and a chorus of responses.
‘We’d be back living in the hills,’ says Teresa, ‘where we were before! We are going forward with this process, and Capriles can never win!’