- The Venezuelan opposition will have a primary to decide on a presidential candidate
- Antonio Ledezma is one of the top contenders in the race
- He says the opposition is better positioned than in past failed attempts
- Ledezma says education and firearms would be among his points of focus as president
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a divisive leftist, but nonetheless has bested (fairly or unfairly, as some say) his political challengers in two re-elections and one recall referendum since taking office in 1999.
With the next presidential elections a year away, the Venezuelan opposition is once again hopeful of a victory. The parties that make up the opposition were buoyed recently by the Inter-American Human Rights Court ruling that opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez had been unjustly banned from running for the presidency by the Chavez government.
Meanwhile, Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles' profile continues to rise as he polls at the top among potential presidential candidates.
Another of the top contenders for the opposition, Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, spoke with CNN Tuesday about why the challengers are optimistic about 2012.
"Today's opposition is more balanced and has a joint agenda," Ledezma said as he compared the current race with previous failed attempts.
The Venezuelan opposition in the past was more fractious and more prone to anxiety when they didn't see an immediate impact from their campaigns, he said. This time, there is a strategy and a set of rules everyone is following, starting with a primary process that he said all the opposition parties will back.
Even though he is in competition with Capriles and Lopez, Ledezma said they do not see each other as foes.
The opposition's overarching goal, as Ledezma put it, is "to restore democracy to Venezuela."
Pieces of the opposition's platform include ushering in economic recovery, mending the social fabric and building unity among Venezuelans.
Chavez's tenure has been defined by what he calls "21st century socialism." Thanks to a number of social programs, paid in part through the state's oil money, poverty rates in Venezuela have decreased significantly since Chavez came to power. But charges of favoritism to political followers and accusations that the social programs are not sustainable have dogged the president. He is seen as an autocrat who has sought to punish perceived enemies in the media and in the opposition.
A majority of Chavez's support comes from Venezuela's poor, a group that the opposition has traditionally had difficulty connecting with.
Ledezma said that rather than scrap the social programs that Chavez has designed, he would restructure and improve them.
What is needed, he said, are "not crumbs like they currently get, but opportunities for education and learning. Not a handout, but something permanent."
The message coming from the opposition also has to be more emotional than in the past, Ledezma said. Their messages have not connected with the people, he said.
If victorious, one of Ledezma's pet projects would be the creation of guarderias familiares, or "family nurseries." These centers would help tackle one of the social problems that Ledezma is most concerned about -- teen pregnancy. With 100,000 teen pregnancies a year, Venezuela leads South America in this category, he said.
To help these young mothers and their children, the family nurseries would be home-based centers that would care for eight to 10 children, providing food, activities and an alternative to being at home alone or on the streets.
He wants to see the creation of more technical schools to prepare students for jobs, and wants to see the pay and stature of educators elevated.
"I aspire to be the president who makes education the bedrock of the modernization of Venezuela," he said.
Ledezma also would implement a disarmament incentive for the public -- there are currently more than 11 million weapons in the country, he said.
The candidates vying in the February primary to run on behalf of the opposition differ in their specific plans, but the overall goals remain the same, Ledezma said.
These include reinforcing the separation of powers, restoring the independence of the judiciary and tackling impunity, he said.