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Venezuela's colourful election: 9 wild soundbytes

Talk of birdsong, lies and ancient curses as nation considers Chavez replacement

Apr. 10, 2013

Who will fill the shoes of Hugo Chavez? Venezuelans going to the polls on April 14 have two main choices: Acting President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's hand-picked successor, or opposition leader Henrique Capriles.

The candidates have certainly done their best to make it an interesting choice. The country's serious issues – high crime rates, stubborn inflation, food shortages and blackouts – have at times been sidelined by their zingers and bellicose rhetoric.

'Little bird'

The ghost of Chavez, who died from cancer on March 5, has certainly loomed large over this campaign.

Maduro, a former bus driver and longtime trade unionist, spoke about Chavez appearing to him as "little bird" as he prayed on the eve of the campaign's official start in early April.

"It sang, and I responded with a song and the bird took flight, circled around once and then flew away, and I felt the spirit and blessings of Commander Hugo Chavez for this battle," said Maduro, pictured at right. He interspersed his comments with the sound of flapping wings and bird chirps.

Capriles' response to the clip, which was widely discussed throughout Venezuela: "I believe he ate a little bird, because that's what he's got inside his head."

Photo: Maduro sings during a campaign rally in Caracas on April 5. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

'Exploiting' Chavez

Capriles, the governor of Venezuela's biggest state, has accused Maduro of trying to ride Chavez's coattails. The late leader was extremely popular among certain segments of the public, including Venezuela's poor.

In trying to separate the acting president from that legacy, he even went as far as accusing of Maduro of lying about Chavez's health when the president was being treated for cancer in the months before his death.

"You are exploiting someone who is no longer here because you have nothing else to offer the country," Capriles, at right, said of Maduro. "I don't play with death, I don't play with suffering, like that."

Maduro reacted with fury: "You can see the disgusting face of the fascist that he [Capriles] is."

Photo: Capriles waves during a campaign rally in San Juan de los Morros on April 8. (Leo Ramirez/AFP/Getty)

'Curse of Macarapana'

Speaking in Amazonas, a rural state with a large indigenous population, Maduro invoked a 16th-century curse in calling for voter support.

"If anyone among the people votes against Nicolas Maduro, he is voting against himself, and the curse of Macarapana is falling on him," he said at an April 6 rally.

The curse dates back to the massacre of indigenous people by Spanish colonialists.

"If the bourgeoisie win," Maduro said, "they are going to privatize health and education, they are going to take land from the Indians, the curse of Macarapana would come on you."

Photo: Maduro greets supporters during a campaign rally in the state of Apure on April 7. (Miraflores Palace handout/Reuters)

'Skin-deep socialists'

Presenting himself as the defender of the status quo, Maduro has told supporters: "I am not Chavez, but I am his son."

But Capriles has gone on the attack against the brash brand of politics espoused by Chavez and his "son."

"They [Maduro's party] talk of socialism, but it's on the surface only. Look how those well-connected ones live, what they wear, what cars they go round in, how many bodyguards they have," Capriles said.

"They are skin-deep socialists only. Their behaviour, I'd say, is savage capitalism."

Photo: Capriles gestures during a campaign rally in Maracay on April 4. (Leo Ramirez/AFP/Getty)

Chavez's Pope?

Maduro has suggested that Chavez's influence has even extended into the afterlife.

After Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was chosen to be the first Pope from Latin America on March 13, Maduro suggested that Chavez, who died eight days earlier, had a hand in the decision.

"We know that our commander ascended to the heights and is face-to-face with Christ," the Reuters news agency reported Maduro as saying.

"Something influenced the choice of a South American Pope, someone new arrived at Christ's side and said to him: 'Well, it seems to us South America's time has come.'"

A Venezuelan flag and a placard with the picture of Chavez is seen on March 11. (Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty)

'Woman in every port'

Capriles was the target of homophobic slurs in the October 2012 presidential election campaign, which he ultimately lost to Chavez.

Maduro himself appeared to allude to these insults in early March.

"I do have a wife, you know? I do like women!" Maduro told the crowd with his wife Cilia Flores at his side.

Capriles, who is single, has scoffed at the comments.

"I'm like a captain of a ship: I have a woman in every port," he has said.

Capriles speaks to supporters during a campaign rally in Caracas on April 7. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Conspiracy theories

While in power, Chavez would spell out wild conspiracy theories – often accusing the U.S. and government foes of trying to have him killed. The point: to arouse sympathies in a population highly suspicious of foreign meddlers.

Maduro has followed in his footsteps.

In recent months, Maduro has claimed that Central American mercenaries and the opposition were plotting his death. At the same time, even more bizarrely, he said other Central Americans and ex-U.S. diplomats had plans to kill his opponent, Capriles.

There's more: Maduro says the government is investigating whether someone, possibly the U.S., "gave" Chavez the cancer that took his life.

Photo: Maduro flies a Venezuelan national flag during the opening rally of his campaign in Barinas on April 2. (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty)

Big rally

Polls have consistently shown Maduro leading Capriles and the opposition by double-digit figures.

But long odds of success have not dampened the spirits of his supporters. A crowd estimated at more than 100,000 filled the streets of the Venezuelan capital on April 7.

"Today the streets of Caracas were filled with happiness, today the streets of Caracas were filled with hope, today the streets of Caracas confirm what's going to happen," Capriles said.

Photo: Capriles, centre, waves at supporters during a campaign rally in Caracas on April 7. (Geraldo Caso /AFP/Getty)

Name calling

At its lowest point, the campaign has descended into basic name-calling.

At one point, Maduro has labeled his rival a "fascist with a sickening face".

The opposition leader, for his part, has dubbed the broad-shouldered acting president a "toripollo" ("bullchicken") with the body of a bull and the head of a chicken.

Photo: Capriles cheers with supporters during a campaign rally in Caracas on April 7. (Ariana Cubillos/AP)

Sources: Wire service reports from Reuters, AP and AFP

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