Chavez's new message for opponents: 'Let me work!'

AP News
Posted: May 26, 2011 2:00 PM
Chavez's new message for opponents: 'Let me work!'

Hugo Chavez seems to have everything a president could want: power to legislate by executive decree, a bonanza of oil earnings and political allies who dominate nearly all major public institutions.

So Venezuela's opposition is vexed by a government campaign accusing opponents of blocking his programs as the country heads toward presidential elections in 2012.

Billboards and government ads on television repeatedly demand that Chavez's foes "let him work!"

The government's slogan emerged in January, when Chavez complained in a speech about critics who denounced decree powers he received from a congress controlled by his allies.

"If you don't want to work, let me work. I'm working for the people, for the people with the most needs," Chavez said, arguing that he needed the authority to accelerate public housing programs and other initiatives.

Since that speech, state TV has broadcast ads featuring a mustachioed man who complains about the opposition.

"The right-wingers' task is stonewalling the president, so he can't work," he tells other Chavez supporters at a government-run restaurant. One companion bursts out: "Whoever doesn't let him work is unpatriotic."

Opposition leaders argue that the current political situation means they couldn't get in Chavez's way if they tried. After 12 years in office, he holds all the levels of power. They say the president is seeking scapegoats to deflect responsibility for problems including widespread crime, crumbling infrastructure and soaring inflation.

"It's a joke," said Henrique Capriles, a state governor. "They use it as an excuse for their profound ineptness."

Officials have given few clear examples of how critics are getting in Chavez's way. Instead, they have targeted politicians such as Capriles, a leading presidential hopeful.

Vice President Elias Jaua recently accused Capriles of failing to keep up maintenance on roads damaged in torrential rains. And pro-Chavez lawmaker Cilia Flores alleged that Capriles has permitted state police to make arbitrary arrests, use excessive force and turn a blind eye to criminal activity.

Capriles says the accusations are part of a smear campaign now that he plans to run in the opposition's upcoming presidential primary.

Polls suggest Chavez remains Venezuela's most popular politician, though his favorable ratings have slipped from a high of more than 70 percent in 2006 to the 50-percent range recently. The popular vote was almost evenly split in last year's congressional elections between the pro- and anti-Chavez camps.

With inflation running at about 23 percent, officials have accused "capitalist" opponents of hoarding goods to speculate with prices, or suggested that inflation was due to policies imposed in the decades before Chavez took office.

After a blackout recently hit a large swath of the country, Chavez said authorities were investigating whether it could have been caused by sabotage.

"They always go around trying to do damage to us because they see how the government is advancing, they see the polls," Chavez told state television recently.