Venezuela 30/01/12

Leopoldo López steps down as election race heats up; Venezuela outraged by web images of young children with guns; and Chávez’s daughter embroiled in web scandal after posing with US dollars. 

Leopoldo López steps down as election race heats up

Venezuelan politician Leopoldo López shocked the nation on Tuesday as he pulled out of the presidential race – claiming to support Henrique Capriles as the candidate to take on Hugo Chávez – just two weeks the opposition’s primary election on 12 February.

‘You will be the next president,’ López told 39 year-old Capriles at a news conference aired by private news broadcaster, Globovisión. The two embraced and raised their arms before an enthusiastic crowd.

López’s withdrawal comes as a surprise to many – not least the national press – following the former mayor’s vigorous campaign to become the official opposition candidate once the government’s ban on his running was overturned last September.

‘The bomb that Leopoldo López dropped in his last press-conference and in the final minutes of the debate [between six opposition candidates] caused a tremor […] amongst TV audiences,’ El Universal reported shortly after the announcement was made.

The news has proved fruitful for Capriles, who is currently topping the opposition polls with an approval rating of around 39%. Still in the lead of universal ratings, however, is President Chávez at some 50%. Chávez aims for another presidential term after 13 years in office.

Four other members of the opposition remain in the race: governor of Zulia state Pablo Pérez, second in the opposition  popularity poll with 19%; congresswoman María Corina Machado; former ambassador Diego Arria; and leftist former trade-union leader Pablo Medina.

Venezuela outraged by web images of young children with guns

A series of photographs depicting small children with guns in the presence of onlooking adults caused outcry amongst prominent national figures this week, provoking potential presidential candidate Pablo Pérez to accuse Chávez of sowing seeds of violence amongst the young generation.

The photos, published on Facebook by Caracas-based political group La Piedrita, show several children with weapons resembling the Russian rifle AK-47 Kalavnikov. Sitting before a controversial mural of Jesus Christ and the Virgin of Coromoto – who are also depicted bearing guns – the children’s faces are covered with handkerchiefs bearing political slogans.

Responding to the images, which were presumably taken in the underprivileged district 23 de Enero in Caracas, Pérez reiterated the need to equip young people with an adequate upbringing.

‘Instead of a gun, these children should have a computer, a book, a bat, a ball, a glove or a musical instrument,’ Pérez told audiences in the Andean state of Mérida during a campaign tour.

No comment has yet been made by the political group in question. The case is under investigation by federal police.

Chávez’s teenage daughter embroiled in web scandal after posing with wad of US dollars

Chávez’s 14 year-old daughter, Rosainés, has stirred controversy throughout Latin America after posting a photograph of herself flaunting a fistful of dollars on photo-sharing app Instagram, causing a wave of ‘mock-up‘ pictures to be shared via Tumbler and other micro-blogging websites.

The image drew indignation as her father’s ‘Bolivarian revolution’ has imposed strict currency regulations since 2003 in an attempt to reduce capital flight, forcing Venezuelans to negotiate government agency CADIVI which limits individual allowances to $3,000 (£1,911) a year. Those who want extra cash are obliged to purchase their currency illegally on the black market, sometimes paying more than double the official rate of 4.3 bolívares per dollar.

However, some excused Rosinés by noting that the notes were $1 and $5 bills, and would probably not amount to much. Her mother Marisabel, who divorced Chávez in 2003, jumped to her daughter’s defence, tweeting: ‘I told her that her mistake wasn’t to take [the picture] but rather to upload it to a medium where there are ignorant people who don’t respect others.’

But others took the opportunity to mock Chávez’s rhetoric against capitalism through satirising the photo by substituting the dollars for other items often scarce in Venezuela, including cooking oil and medicines.

Rosinés Chávez has been criticised for tainting the family’s revolutionary image before – most recently when she posted a picture of herself meeting Justin Bieber, the Canadian popstar, upon his arrival in Caracas for a concert last year.