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Capriles: Youthful face of Venezuela's opposition

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Donning his trademark baseball cap in Venezuela's colors, Henrique Capriles is the youthful leader of an opposition that failed to defeat late leader Hugo Chavez in 14 years, but he hopes he can beat his successor this time.

Nicknamed "flaquito" (skinny) because of his lean figure, Capriles accepted the opposition's nomination Sunday to run in the April 14 election against the broad-shouldered acting President Nicolas Maduro.

He entered the race with guns blazing, accusing Maduro of "using the body of the president to stage a political campaign." Chavez has been lying in state since Wednesday, with throngs of supporters filing past his open casket since then.

The 40-year-old Miranda state governor became the face of the historically fractured opposition last year when he was picked in an unprecedented primary to run against Chavez in the October presidential election.

The wide-ranging coalition of opposition parties picked him again as its candidate this weekend, days after his formidable rival Chavez lost his battle with cancer on Tuesday at the age of 58.

Last year, the telegenic lawyer ran a vigorous campaign, going door-to-door wearing short-sleeve shirts and his hat in the yellow, blue and red colors of Venezuela, describing it as a battle between David and Goliath.

Even though he drew huge crowds, including hundreds of thousands at a rally in Caracas, his nationwide campaign was not enough to topple the leftist leader, who won by 11 percentage points.

But with 6.5 million, or 44 percent, of the votes, he gave the opposition its best score ever against Chavez, who ran the country for 14 years and was about to being another six year term when he had a cancer relapse.

Capriles had already been trading barbs with Maduro for weeks when the rivals took swipes at each other on Sunday.

The governor accused his rival of being "sick with power" and suggested Maduro lied about when Chavez died. The acting leader branded his rival a "fascist" and accused him of trying to foment violence.

Hailing from a well-to-do family, Capriles has served as lawmaker, mayor and Miranda state governor in his young career.

The business-friendly candidate says he is inspired by Brazilian-style center-left policies, though he was first elected in the chamber of deputies at the age of 26 on the center-right Christrian Democrat list.

He became the young president of the chamber of deputies, a legislative body that no longer exists and was replaced by the National Assembly.

In 2000, he was elected mayor of Baruta, a municipality in the Caracas metropolitan area, as a candidate of the Social-Christian Justice First party, which he still belongs to.

He served four months in jail after being accused of failing to stop an attack on the Cuban embassy during a 47-hour coup against Chavez in April 2002. He was acquitted of the charges and re-elected in 2004.

Capriles became governor of Miranda, a northern state, after winning the 2008 election against a Chavez loyalist, former vice president and current National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello.

After losing to Chavez in October, he ran for his Miranda seat again in December against another former vice president, Elias Jaua, whom he defeated again.

"I have already thrashed two vice presidents," Capriles boasted two weeks ago, and referring to former vice president Maduro, he added: "Third time lucky."

But the regional elections were a disaster for the opposition, which ended up at the helm of only three of 23 states.

Born on July 11, 1972, his maternal grandmother is a Jewish Pole who survived the Holocaust, but he follows the Catholic faith.

He considers former South African president Nelson Mandela as a model to follow in Venezuela, a country divided between "Chavistas" and anti-Chavistas.

Capriles is single with no children.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130311/capriles-youthful-face-venezuelas-opposition