CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The Venezuelan opposition's candidate in next month's presidential election ridiculed President Hugo Chavez on Monday for claiming to pursue socialist policies and pledged to use the country's oil wealth more effectively if elected.
Henrique Capriles told supporters that nearly 14 years under the fiercely anti-capitalist Chavez have resulted in Venezuela having violence-plagued prisons, crumbling hospitals and one of the world's highest murder rates.
"If they're socialists, I'm Marxist-Leninist," Capriles said during a speech in which he laid out his plans if he wins the Oct. 7 vote.
"This government imports gasoline from the United States and says it fights against imperialism. It imports rice from the U.S. and it says that it has gained its independence," he told a cheering crowd.
He pledged to improve police forces and provide Venezuelans with more job opportunities as well as better electricity and water services.
Capriles accused Chavez of wasting Venezuela's oil wealth through fuel supply deals with allied nations such as Cuba and Nicaragua that involve long-term, low-interest financing. "We aren't going to give away a single drop more of our oil," he said.
Chavez disputes that characterization of his foreign oil deals and says Venezuela has reached mutually beneficial oil deals with its allies during his presidency.
Speaking on state television Monday, Chavez called Capriles "a rich kid disguising himself as poor, as a boy from the barrio."
The leftist Chavez has regularly accused his rival of representing the interests of the wealthy, but Capriles describes his views as center-left and says he would maintain social programs for the poor while also working with the private sector to create jobs.
Capriles has strongly criticized government seizures of private businesses during Chavez's presidency.
Among his pledges on Monday, Capriles said he would strive to bring down Venezuela's inflation rate, which at 18.1 percent is among the highest in Latin America.
He also said he would raise the minimum wage to the equivalent of $581 a month from the current $476.
"The government tells us that we have one of the best minimum wages in Latin America, but that's a big lie," Capriles said. "Our commitment will be for the money to be enough for people, for their salary to allow them to buy a basic basket of foodstuffs and to save."
Chavez has maintained a lead in most recent polls, but one poll last month put the two candidates roughly even. Chavez is seeking another six-year term in the election.
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao