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Confrontation in Venezuela: the “totalitarian” leader against “imperialism”

Venezuela’s political crisis heats up as government and opposition launch campaigns for August 15 referendum on the continuity of President Hugo Chavez.
The poll organized by the US organizations, says Chavez would win by ten points.

His foes say he is a totalitarian leader aiming to turn the country into a “Castro-communist rule”; he and his followers believe the internal opposition is acting as part of an imperialist force led by US President George W. Bush, which is trying to crash a democratic revolution in world’s fifth oil exporter. Today, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is the center of a political turmoil which began more than two years ago, when the opposition led a military coup to oust him, but the coup was frustrated, took the lives of hundreds of people and created huge losses to the national economy.

The “Battle of Venezuela” entered into a new chapter last weekend when the National Electoral Council authorized the government and the opposition to launch campaigns for August 15 referendum on whether Chavez should continue in office. The recall vote, may be a transcendental stage in the fight, but everything seems to tell that it would not be the last one.

Rallies have been held around the country, and advertisements were aired on radio and television. The campaign is being hold in the streets and in the media, where the opposition controls powerful private groups and the government stands firm from the public system.

Cities are divided; the richest areas of Caracas –country’s capital - hate Chavez’ supporters, as poorest districts fully back the president. No one dares to campaigns in enemy’s territory. During the weekends, hundred of thousands rally to listen to Chavez words, as hundred of thousands join to ask him to resign.

The opposition said it would work tirelessly to oust the constitutional president. But speaking to thousands of supporters, President Chavez maintained he would be victorious. “The real rivals we are facing are the imperialist forces”, says Chavez and points out to Washington, where the US State Department prays for Chavez defeat.

“He is trying to turn Venezuela into a Castro-communist rule”, says the opposition about the “democratic revolution” Chavez leads, a process known as “Bolivarian Republic”, named after Venezuela’s main historical figure. This heterogeneous mix of businessmen, local and international monopolies, media groups and right-wing political parties express local urban middle and upper classes wishes. They are tired of Chavez’s populist rhetoric and his progressive social plans that brought down food and medicine prices and opened schools for millions of excluded people.

The opposition needs at least 3.7 million votes in order to have the president recalled, which is the amount of votes Chavez obtained when became re-elected in 2000. Polls, as everything in today’s Venezuela, are divided. A local opinion poll in June suggested that Chavez would lose out to the opposition 57.4% to 42.6%. But poll by a US firm published on Friday suggested the president was leading 57% to 41%.

If the opposition gets enough votes, elections would be held in a month and the victor would finish President Chavez's term which runs until January 2007. If Chavez wins, he will complete his mandate and has already expressed his will to run for one further period. Anyway, no matter who wins on August, the “Battle of Venezuela” will go on, as the opposition does no look like ready to acknowledge a defeat, and the popular process lead by Chavez has gone so far to be abruptly finished.

Hernan Etchaleco

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