Both charismatic and polarizingly opinionated, Hugo Chávez arguably has been the most outspoken and identifiable leader in Latin America during his 13 years in office. But since his cancer diagnosis last year, questions about Chávez's future have risen, and all before presidential elections coming up in October 2012. Time points out that the Venezuelan president has faced little competition in prior elections -- but that changed when opposition frontrunner Leopoldo López threw his support behind fellow challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski, according to The Christian Science Monitor.
The Washington Post points out that Capriles has positioned himself as something of a Venezuelan Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the popular former president of Brazil. Reuters notes that along with being Venezuela's youngest legislator when he was elected at the age of 26, Capriles often rides his motorcycle into poor areas to oversee projects and talk to working Venezuelans. The 39-year-old politician won his 2008 election to become governor of Miranda, the country's second-most populous state, over one of Mr. Chavez's closest allies.
But more important to his viability as a candidate, The Monitor explains, is Capriles' distance from Venezuela's economic crises of the 1980s and the oil-wealth corruption that crested with two coup attempts in the 1990s. And while Chávez has instituted many social programs from oil profits and ousted capitalism in Venezuela -- reforms popular with the poor, according to Time -- the Venezuelan president's strategies have led to the highest inflation rate and lowest level of foreign investment in Latin America. Foreign Affairs reports that presently high oil prices have helped Chávez and government-seized industries, but that the country's expenditures are unsustainable. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Capriles would represent a shift toward a more US-friendly relationship while still focusing on pushing social policies to build Venezuela's middle class.
Although Chávez maintains the lead in most polls, Foreign Affairs addresses three main issues the current Venezuelan president has working against him: economic dysfunction, high crime rates, and an alleged battle with cancer. Rather than attacking Chávez, Reuters reports, Capriles has focused on inclusiveness with Chávez supporters, urging them to "get on the bus" for change. Capriles' first test will come in the February primary, which CSM reports he is expected to win. From there, the real test for change will come on October, The Washington Post reports, when the opposition hopes for a free and fair presidential election.
"God willing, I will be the youngest president in Venezuela's history," Capriles has said.