Venezuela Selects Challenger to Chavez

February 13, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Venezuelan opposition leader Capriles
Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski celebrates after winning the primary elections in Caracas on Feb. 12. (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

Venezuelans on Sunday voted to choose the main opposition candidate to challenge longtime President Hugo Chavez in an election several months away.

Henrique Capriles Radonski, the 39-year-old governor of Miranda state, trounced his nearest competitor Pablo Perez, another governor, in the primary on Sunday night. With over 95 percent of votes counted, Capriles came in at 1,806,860, compared to 867,601 for Perez.

“I aim to be a president who talks much less, who doesn’t invade Venezuelans’ personal lives so much,” Capriles said.

“The real game begins on February 13,” he said, referring to the race between him and Chavez.

Capriles said that Venezuela could mimic Brazil’s economic development model, which allows more free market capitalism and makes social progress a focal point. “This [vote] is not about changing the president. It is about changing a model that has failed,” he said on national television station Globo TV.

“We’ve come to unite our people, to unite all Venezuelans,” said Capriles, to which his supporters chant back, “Freedom! Freedom!”

“There will be no obstacle, no darkness, that can stop this light we have turned on,” Capriles continued.

Nearly 3 million voters participated in the elections, a historic high and well over the 2.5 million expected. 

Born in Caracas in 1972, Capriles is a descendant from a family of immigrants who came to Venezuela running away from the Nazi persecution of Jews during World War II. 

He began his political career at age 25 and by 2008, he had become the youngest governor of Miranda State, considered the second most important state in the country. 

Chavez, 57, underwent chemotherapy last year in Caracas and Havana, Cuba, and is aiming for a sixth term.

With reporting by Carlos Morales in Caracas