Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday, April 14th to choose a president and the two main candidates, Acting President Nicolas Maduro, who is the late President Hugo Chavez’ handpicked successor, and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles have both reached out to indigenous voters, although Maduro has made more public efforts this year.
The two candidates have little in common. Maduro, a former bus driver, union leader and member of the Constituent Assembly that drafted a new constitution in 1999, is pledging to follow through with Chavez programs for the poor, such as the Great Housing Mission Venezuela which has built more than 43,000 units of housing for low income communities, and using the country’s enormous oil wealth to provide low cost and sometimes free fuel to a variety of countries (including the United States).
Capriles is a lawyer, businessman, former governor of the populous state of Miranda, and former mayor of the city of Baruta who has pledged to, among other things end the prior currency controls, keep the country’s oil wealth within the country, protect freedom of the press – Chavez had shut down and harassed some media outlets – and decentralize the country’s government, however Capriles has said he would maintain some of the social programs created by Chavez.
One of the few points the candidates have in common is that both men have made appeals to indigenous voters throughout the country.
On Saturday, April 6th, Maduro traveled to the heavily indigenous city of Puerto Ayacucho, the capital of the state of Amazonas in southern Venezuela to assure voters of his plans to continue Chavez’ policies and emphasize his own indigenous heritage.
"I am here as the grandson of Indians," Maduro said at the gathering where he was given a ceremonial headdress and an indigenous collar by an indigenous representative. "In my blood runs Indian blood, my skin is Indian skin, my heart is that of Guaicaipuro and my dreams are those of Chavez..."
Maduro also noted that the Chavez program of returning of over four million acres of collective land titles to Indigenous Peoples represented 74 percent of the titles requested by indigenous communities and that his administration would provide the remaining 26 percent, along with continuing educational and health programs as well as create an Amazonian Development Corporation to be headed by indigenous leader Nicia Maldonado.
Capriles has not made any recent public pronouncements regarding Indigenous Peoples but during his failed presidential bid last year, he visited the same city of Puerto Ayacucho, Amazonas, in May and also addressed the issue of land titles.
However, the opposition candidate asserted that, "not even 1 percent of Amazonas has been demarcated as indigenous land," and that he would return the state to indigenous communities. (The other land titles were granted to indigenous communities in various parts of Venezuela.)
The former governor also publicized his twitter message to Indigenous Peoples on October 12 of last year, celebrated there and elsewhere as The Day of Indigenous Resistance.
"Very good day to you, we send greetings today on the 12th of October to our indigenous brothers throughout Venezuela. I continue to be with you to achieve that which belongs to you."
As of Friday, most polls were showing that Maduro held a 10 to 14 percent lead over Capriles.