Over the past three years, I have presided over Venezuela's Coalition for Democratic Unity (Mesa de Unidad Democratica, or 'MUD' for its acronym in Spanish), a broad coalition of all the democratic parties in opposition to the current government. During this time, and accompanied by all the Venezuelan's who – like me – are striving for a peaceful and prosperous country, we have made tremendous strides. Emerging from a complicated and disheartening defeat in the presidential elections of 2006, we began to work. We established committees, talked with the Venezuelan people and tried to raise money. Additionally, we kept explaining to the international community that most Venezuelans truly want to live in peace, democracy and prosperity under the rule of law.
And, as we worked, we started to win.
In 2007, we built the movement to peacefully and democratically reject President Chavez's referendum to change our constitutional republic to a socialist state. In 2008, we achieved more votes and took back some of the most important municipalities and states in the country. In 2010 the MUD obtained more votes in the National Assembly election than the Socialist Party candidates.
These victories prepared the ground for the February 12 primary election. Despite threats by the government and voter intimidation by President Chavez, this election saw the MUD select more than 200 candidates for municipal and state governments. But more significantly, the MUD chose its candidate to challenge Hugo Chavez for the presidency of Venezuela.
For five months, six candidates vied for the privilege of matching strength with President Chavez in order to restore representative democracy to Venezuela. After a long and exciting primary, punctuated by debates and rallies, on February 12 the people were given their turn to speak in an open primary.
As the votes were counted at the end of the day, Henrique Capriles Radonski, the 39 year old Governor of Miranda State, was victorious with 64 percent of the vote. This astounding victory gave Governor Radonski a solid mandate and placed this young man squarely at the center of Venezuelan politics. Polls after the primary revealed that 70 percent of the country holds a positive view of Radonski. But this was not the only success. As the dust settled on election day, and the votes were counted, we became aware that over 3,000,000 Venezuelans had cast their vote. This was far beyond the expectations of even the most enthusiastic supporters, and ended up being one of the most successful primary elections ever.
It is clear, the people have spoken – and defiantly.
Despite this exciting victory, the next seven months leading up to the October 7 presidential election will be difficult. President Chavez will use the not-insignificant resources of the state and the government to buy, threaten and manipulate in an attempt to steal the vote. He will unleash attacks upon Governor Radonski, and he will attempt to dissuade us from our task. Using the almost unlimited revenues from oil, Chavez and his Socialist Party allies will attempt to purchase a dictatorship.
We will stand in his way.
Now that the dust has settled after the primary, it is time for us to cement our unity. As the campaign moves forward, the MUD will be the bulwark supporting our candidate. Together, we have established a 164 page plan of government, written by more than 400 experts from across the country. We will continue to make the case to the people that, like Governor Radonski said in his primary victory speech, 'united we are stronger.'
And we will continue to work – from the poor barrios to the oil enclaves – convincing those that still support President Chavez that, with us, they have nothing to fear. They need not worry about losing their benefits or their privileges; they will not experience any political backlash which has been the modus operandi of President Chavez's administration; and in the new Venezuela, there will no longer be discrimination of any type. Conversely, if they vote for unity, we are offering them the chance to continue to enjoy the privileges of a wealthy country – but to do so in peace and harmony, shedding the vitriol and the hatred which have too often been the hallmark of President Chavez's ill-conceived 'revolution.'
For those in the world who believe in freedom, in well-being and in democracy, we invite you to join us as we take back our country and build a better nation for our children. We are convinced that only in unity can we at long last live in a land of peace, prosperity, harmony and rule of law.
(AP Photo: Opposition primary candidates, from left to right, Diego Arria, Pablo Perez, Henrique Capriles, Maria Corina, Leopoldo Lopez and Pablo Medina, celebrate after Capriles won the opposition presidential primary in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday Feb. 12, 2012.)