Taking nothing for chance, the state television channels have also gone overboard, showing old video clips of Chávez and a rebroadcast of the best of the late president's Sunday Aló Presidente show, which often ran for hours. Making sure that no one misses the point, one of the country's state television channels commissioned a 40-second animated cartoon detailing Chávez's ascent into heaven. In the cartoon, Chávez is welcomed by such leftist luminaries as Che Guevara, Eva Perón, and former Chilean President Salvador Allende as he enters the pearly gates.
Lest anyone think that Maduro is simply tugging at Venezuelans' heartstrings, he hasn't spared the insults in attacking his challenger. Besides insinuating that the single Capriles is gay (an allegation that the governor has refuted with claims of virility), Maduro also said that the country's opposition is composed of "heirs of Hitler." Ironically, Capriles's maternal grandfather is a Polish Jew who came to the country after World War II.
Still, many Venezuelans seem to be lapping it up. Recent polls show that Maduro has up to a 20 percentage-point lead over his rival. In October, Chávez bested Capriles by a 55-to-44 margin. Maduro's lead has occurred despite soaring crime and inflation that was boosted by his decision to devalue the country's currency by a third in February. If that can't move voters to consider a change of direction, it's going to be a tough road for Capriles.
Since death has made Chávez unassailable, Capriles has focused his campaign on trying to convince voters that Maduro is no Chávez and is unfit to address the country's woes. Capriles repeatedly calls Maduro by his first name on the campaign stump and accuses the rival and members of his government of being opportunists who have socked away millions of dollars while professing to be revolutionaries.
"They talk of socialism, but it's only on the surface," Capriles said on April 3. "Look how they live, what they wear, what cars they drive. They're only skin-deep socialists." For his part, Maduro has brushed off Capriles's digs, saying that his opponent is a member of the country's bourgeoisie and is "obsessed" with him.
Meanwhile, lost in the drama of the 10-day campaign has been the revelation that a functionary of Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) had somehow acquired the code to start the country's voting machines. The case is now under investigation by the National Electoral Council, whose board is controlled by Maduro supporters. "What does it mean that a PSUV tech would have the start-up code, and what else might they have that we don't know about?" asked David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America.
But while the opposition fears some high-tech monkeying around with eventual balloting, for now Maduro is resorting to a much more old-school method of securing the vote. During a recent campaign stop in Puerto Ayacucho, he told crowds that a centuries-old curse -- stemming from a decisive 1567 battle in which Spanish conquistadors defeated local indigenous fighters -- would afflict voters who didn't cast their ballots for him.
"If anyone in the country votes against Nicolas Maduro, he is also voting against himself," Maduro warned. "He is falling under the curse of Maracapana." In this crazy Venezuelan election, anything is possible.