CARACAS — Many Venezuelan voters see the coming presidential election that will replace the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez as a sharp choice between socialism and capitalism that will affect their lives in very real ways.
Business has not been good for Rotzen Villabon, who owns a gift shop called Viqiu. He needs dollars to import products made in China but he can't find any at the official exchange rate of 6.5 Bolivares per U.S. dollar. He says the supply is even limited on the black market at a much higher exchange rate.
“It has been really hard to find dollars, and we can find some at an exchange rate of 25 per dollar but not the amount that we want. So that is the reason that business is down,” said Villabon.
The strict controls on foreign currency are fueling the country's soaring inflation and causing scarcity of needed items from food to beauty products.
Villabon said he will vote for Henrique Capriles, who has promised to open up the economy to foreign investment and make Venezuela more business friendly.
“I think if Capriles wins there will be change. Not overnight, we have to be clear, because the conditions are really complicated. We don't have liquidity in this country and, whoever wins the election, it's going to be a hard time,” he said.
For many supporters of interim President Maduro, the election is about preserving social programs like free housing, education and health care put in place by President Hugo Chavez, who died last month after a long battle with cancer.
Jose Antonio Silva and his brother just received free treatment at a local health clinic.
“And if Maduro, God willing, wins the election, this will continue because this is a project the president wanted for the poor people,” he said.
The candidates agree that Venezuela needs to curb double-digit inflation and both support social programs for the poor. But many voters see stark ideological differences in the candidates and President Maduro currently holds a significant lead over Capriles in the polls.
The election takes place this coming Sunday.