Henrique Capriles, the 39-year-old Venezuelan opposition candidate who was the recent victim of a homophobic smear campaign, has risen in the polls, and is now one per cent below President Hugo Chavez, whose campaign has been affected by his cancer treatment.

Talk-show host Mario Silva announced on his radio programme The Razor Blade a few weeks ago that in 2000, Mr Capriles was found by policeman Jesús Teodoro Hernández engaged in a sexual act with another man in a public route in his car. At the time Capriles was mayor of Baruta, a position which he then allegedly used to cover up the event, avoid charges and have the policeman in question subjected to a disciplinary process.

Mr Hernandez provided the above information, claiming that he did so to make the story public and clear his name to halt the threats he’d been receiving. Mr Silva maintains he was covering the story in order to show how power is “used” and how “filthy power is”. He added that it had “nothing to do with the condition of Capriles’ sexuality”.

There is no suggestion that President Chavez has any connection to the smear campaign, although it has been suggested those who conducted it were Chavez supporters. It seems however, that the belief of those followers that allegations of homosexuality would deter people from voting for Capriles were wrong.

Luis Vicente Leon, head of the Caracas polling body Datanalisis, said:

“The gap between Capriles and Chavez can narrow as a group of undecided voters will prefer Capriles and because the initial solidarity with Chavez over his illness will diminish. Chavez’s strengths are that he has money, a powerful institutional backing, but he’s sick and his campaign is a virtual one. His challenge is to convince people that he can rule for another six years.

“Capriles’ strengths are that he’s young, healthy and represents the future but doesn’t have as many resources, and the challenge is to guarantee to voters that if he wins he won’t abolish the social programs and that there won’t be chaos.”

According to Venezuala Analysis, “Various news groups such as Reuters and the Huffington Post claim that the opposition candidate has fallen victim to ‘government-inspired hate’ and negative remarks about everything from his [unconfirmed] sexuality, to his ‘privileged’ background and Jewish roots.”