President Maduro has 'bankrupted' Venezuela -opposition

Reuters

By Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Opposition leader HenriqueCapriles accused Venezuela's "incompetent" President NicolasMaduro on Sunday of bankrupting the nation in an increasinglyradical blame-game over the OPEC member's economic distortions.

Since late socialist leader Hugo Chavez died of cancer inFebruary, the economy has joined crime as Venezuelans' topconcerns. Prices are soaring at an annualized 45 percent, ablack market for dollars is booming, and basic goods from flourto toilet-paper are often scarce.

A self-declared "son" of Chavez, the 50-year-old Maduro sayslocal opponents, backed by the United States and cheered bycompliant foreign media, are deliberately "sabotaging" theeconomy in an attempt to bring down his government.

"There's a criminal war against the Venezuelan people. Theywant to lead us to chaos, division and confusion," he again saidat the weekend, accusing three just-expelled U.S. diplomats oflending cash, logistics and planning to the cause against him.

Capriles, who narrowly lost an April vote to Maduro and hasrefused to recognize him, said the president's tolerance ofcorruption among his team, adherence to a failed socialistmodel, and personal incapacity, were to blame.

Though said by one fellow opposition leader this week to befacing imminent arrest by the government, Capriles, 40, heldnothing back in a blistering Sunday column.

"I warn you, Nicolas," he said, using the informal Spanish"tu" not the "usted" a president would usually be addressed by.

"We're not going to let the country go off a cliff due toyour incompetence and the corrupt ones you protect ... Youcannot hide the fact you have bankrupted one of the richestnations in the region, and during an oil bonanza."

'SMOKESCREENS'

Referring to reports of dissent in the ruling SocialistParty, Capriles taunted Maduro: "Someone who doesn't even havethe trust of his own militants is hardly going to have the trustof the nation he pretends to govern.

"Neither this invention of the economic war nor thepolitical smokescreens they seek abroad to blame others fortheir disaster are working."

Pollsters say both Maduro and Capriles' approval ratings aredown from their April vote levels of 50.6 and 49.1 respectively,and many Venezuelans are simply fed up with the politicalpolarization they had hoped might diminish after Chavez.

Both men are rallying supporters ahead of Dec. 8 regionalelections that will be a test of Maduro's standing andVenezuelans' confidence in his ability to fix the economy.

Capriles, who governs Miranda state, has taken aconfrontational line since an election loss he attributed tofraud. Officials accuse him of fomenting post-election violencethat killed nine people, and there are constant rumors he may bedetained and charged over that.

Like the government, the opposition Democratic Unitycoalition is also beset by talk of divisions, especially overthe issue of how to confront the Maduro government. Someopposition leaders want a campaign of street protests and moreopen defiance, though in the past that failed against Chavez.

With Monday the anniversary of Chavez's last presidentialelection victory against Capriles on Oct. 7 2012, the governmenthas called supporters onto the streets to march in his memory.

State TV on Sunday was re-running one of Chavez's famous,rambling "Hello, President!" programs.

In what promises to be a politically charged week, Maduroplans to go to parliament on Tuesday to seek extraordinarydecree powers used by his predecessor several times.

The president says he needs them to pass economic andanti-corruption measures, but opponents say it is a sign ofautocratic rule. Maduro appears to have the two-thirds votesneeded for the measure to be passed in the National Assembly.

The president announced a 10 percent wage rise for publicworkers on Saturday, and is promising measures soon to improveaccess to foreign currency for dollar-starved importers.

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