Pray that vote that anti-Jewish guy OUT of Venezuela (Chavez)
Venezuela campaign gets rough
By Simon Romero
Sunday, February 8, 2009
CARACAS: In the final days before a crucial referendum that will determine whether President Hugo Chávez can run for re-election indefinitely, campaigning has taken on a noticeable, and sometimes ugly, edge.
Antigovernment protests have intensified in some cities, despite government pressure, and pro-Chávez vigilantes have attacked institutions like the Caracas mayor's office and the Vatican's diplomatic mission.
This is Chávez's second try in less than two years at extending his rule, which he says is necessary to continue the socialist-inspired revolution that he began here a decade ago.
The narrow rejection of his first attempt in late 2007 - part of a broader constitutional reform package - was an embarrassing blow for a leader used to adulation from his supporters.
The referendum next Sunday also offers an opening for the country's fractious opposition to look beyond 2013, when Chávez's six-year term expires.
"For the opposition, the referendum is quite important because they continue to lack a leader capable of challenging Chávez for the presidency," said Gregory Wilpert, a Venezuela specialist who teaches political science at Brooklyn College in New York. "Defeating it is thus their best and perhaps only chance to beat Chávez in the foreseeable future."
Just two months ago, Chávez's allies lost ground in regional elections, with areas like Maracaibo, the second-largest city, and impoverished areas of Caracas going to the opposition. But the momentum from those victories has given way to a tight race over the 54-year-old president's bid to stay in office for years, or even decades, as he has hinted.
Although many voters complain of problems like a surge in violent crime and galloping inflation, Chávez has kept opponents on the defensive, displaying the political skills that have allowed him to consolidate power over the past 10 years.
"Chávez is surrounded by corrupt idiots, but he keeps his focus on helping the poor," said Omaira de Catacoli, 66, a cook who lives in the Cruz Baja district of Catia, a patchwork of slums in western Caracas. "Without Chávez, we would be left to the political thieves on every side. With Chávez, we have at least a little hope."
Venezuela's oil-dependent economy is sharply slowing, injecting urgency into the campaigning on both sides. But in a move that seems to have mollified some opposition mayors and governors, Chávez altered the referendum to let voters also decide on lifting term limits for other elected officials.
Here in the capital, a sense of low-intensity chaos has prevailed as the vote has gotten closer. Pro-Chávez partisans on motorcycles have carried out tear-gas attacks with seeming impunity in recent days, lobbing tear gas canisters not only at the home of an outspoken television executive who has criticized the government, but also at the papal diplomatic mission, which had granted asylum to a student leader who opposes Chávez. Other attacks have targeted municipal buildings controlled by the opposition and private media critical of the government, like Globovisión, a television network, and El Nuevo País, a newspaper.
Over the weekend, the campaigning intensified. Thousands marched against the proposed measure on Saturday through the main thoroughfares of this city, while Chávez led a caravan in support of his proposal through the slums of eastern Caracas.
Valentín David Santana, the leader of a pro-Chávez group called La Piedrita, which has taken credit for most of the tear gas attacks, promised "war" if Chávez loses the referendum. On Saturday, Chávez ordered security forces to detain Santana.
Students have emerged again to fill the void of articulate leadership within the opposition to Chávez.
But both the student movement and Chávez's tactics for combating it have evolved. Once-embattled student leaders like Yon Goicoechea, who accepted a $500,000 prize in 2008 from the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, have lost support among some voters who rely on Chávez's social welfare programs even if they distrust his plan to stay in power.
"Between Chávez and the students receiving the gringo dollars, I'll take Chávez," said María Encarnación Contreras, 58, a homemaker who lives in Catia.
Meanwhile, Chávez's policies for dealing with the students are growing more repressive, explaining perhaps why the movement seems to lack the well-organized vigor it had just a year ago. In recent days, the secret intelligence police have begun searching the homes of student leaders, with officials claiming some student protests turned violent or had the capacity to do so.
State media is also exerting pressure on the students, in at least one case singling out leaders of Jewish origin for scrutiny"There are two students - one is Diego Aaron Scharifker, and the other David Smolansky Urosa," Mario Silva, a top ally of Chávez, said last month in a broadcast of his show, "La Hojilla," or the Razorblade. "Scharifker and Smolansky are last names of Hebrew origin, Jewish last names - you see the problems right now."
He continued, "There are sectors of power of the Jewish community, sectors of power that are very disgusted with the position of the president of the republic in his defense of the sovereignty of Palestine."
The verbal attack has opened the government up to claims of fostering a climate of intolerance marked by the desecration of a Sephardic synagogue here by unidentified gunmen last week.
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