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In the Chavista stronghold of Petare outside Caracas, Maria Velasquez, 48, who works in a government soup kitchen that feeds 200 people, said she was voting for Chavez’s man "because that is what my comandante ordered."
Reynaldo Ramos, a 60-year-old construction worker, said he "voted for Chavez" before correcting himself and saying he chose Maduro. But he could not seem to get his beloved leader out of his mind.
"We must always vote for Chavez because he always does what’s best for the people and we’re going to continue on this path," Ramos said. He said the government had helped him get work on the subway system and helps pay his grandchildren’s school costs.
The governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela deployed a well-worn get-out-the-vote machine spearheaded by loyal state employees. It also enjoyed the backing of state media as part of its near-monopoly on institutional power.
Capriles’ camp said Chavista loyalists in the judiciary put them at glaring disadvantage by slapping the campaign and broadcast media with fines and prosecutions that they called unwarranted. Only one opposition TV station remains and it was being sold to a new owner Monday.
At his campaign rallies, Capriles would read out a list of unfinished road, bridge and rail projects. Then he asked people what goods were scarce on store shelves.
Capriles, 40, showed Maduro none of the respect he earlier accorded Chavez. Maduro hit back hard, at one point calling Capriles’ backers "heirs of Hitler." It was an odd accusation considering that Capriles is the grandson of Holocaust survivors from Poland.
The opposition contended Chavez looted the treasury last year to buy his re-election with government handouts. It also complained about the steady flow of cut-rate oil to Cuba, which Capriles said would end if he won.
Venezuela’s $30 billion fiscal deficit is equal to about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Maduro, a former union activist and bus driver with close ties to Cuba’s leaders, constantly alleged that Capriles was conspiring with U.S. putschists to destabilize Venezuela and even suggested Washington had infected Chavez with the cancer that killed him.
In his victory speech, he said he would be presenting on Monday nine men arrested in an alleged sabotage plot
He focused his campaign message on his mentor: "I am Chavez. We are all Chavez." And he promised to expand anti-poverty programs.
Maduro will face no end of hard choices.
Many factories operate at half capacity because strict currency controls make it hard for them to pay for imported parts and materials. Business leaders say some companies verge on bankruptcy because they cannot extend lines of credit with foreign suppliers.
Chavez imposed currency controls a decade ago trying to stem capital flight as his government expropriated large land parcels and dozens of businesses. Now, dollars sell on the black market at three times the official exchange rate and Maduro has had to devalue Venezuela’s currency, the bolivar, twice this year.
Meanwhile, consumers grumble that stores are short of milk, butter, corn flour and other staples. The government blames hoarding, while the opposition points at the price controls imposed by Chavez in an attempt to bring down double-digit inflation.
Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez, Jorge Rueda, E. Eduardo Castillo and Christopher Toothaker in Caracas and Vivian Sequera in Valencia contributed to this report.
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