Huge march in Venezuela for Chavez opponent

Por Venezuela Real - 5 de Noviembre, 2006, 11:07, Categoría: Electorales

Reuters
Washington Post
November 05, 2006

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of people on Saturday marched in Caracas to support opposition presidential candidate Manuel Rosales, whose populist campaign has focused on reducing crime and redistributing oil wealth.

Rosales, governor of the oil-rich Zulia state, trails leftist President Hugo Chavez by around 20 percentage points in most private polls ahead of the December 3 election.

Chavez is a close ally of Cuba and fiercely opposes the Bush administration even though Venezuela provides around 12 percent of U.S. oil imports.

Opposition sympathizers donning Venezuela's signature red, yellow and blue patriotic colors joined the march, which spanned some 12 miles across most of the capital city.

"Rosales is our last hope to prevent this country from becoming another Cuba," said 53-year-old engineer Antonio Romero, who marched with his family carrying Venezuelan flags.

Rosales promises to end Chavez's confrontation with the Bush administration, redistribute bountiful oil revenues and reduce soaring crime rates throughout Venezuela.

Opposition leaders also accuse the Chavez government of drawing up blacklists to intimidate voters and requiring public employees to join pro-Chavez campaign activities.

"Enough of being afraid in this country," said Angela Barrera, 28, a graphic designer whose face was painted with the colors of the Venezuelan flag. "On December 3, what will be heard is the voice of the people who want a future."

A video released this week showed the nation's top energy official saying the government should not employ oil workers opposed to Chavez -- statements Chavez himself later backed despite intense criticism.

State television showed images on Saturday of what appeared to be thousands of pro-Chavez oil workers gathered to support the energy minister in the eastern city of Puerto La Cruz, where Chavez was scheduled to appear.

MASSIVE SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT CAMPAIGN

The Rosales campaign has told voters it will end Chavez's generous energy assistance programs to other countries, including one that distributes subsidized heating oil to poor U.S. residents through Venezuelan-owned energy company Citgo.


Chavez has built up support among the poor by using oil revenues to finance a massive social development campaign that has expanded access to health care and education.

He has also roused nationalist sentiment by criticizing Washington's involvement in Latin American affairs, and has repeatedly accused the State Department of plotting his ouster.

Most polls released in recent weeks show Rosales far behind Chavez despite having united a fractured opposition that failed to oust the former army officer through a botched coup, a two-month oil strike and a recall campaign.

Government supporters have criticized Rosales for signing a decree abolishing state institutions in the brief 2002 coup while Chavez was being held by dissident officers.

Chavez was first elected in 1998 and again in 2000 on promises to end poverty and roll back U.S.-backed free market reforms.

He is now the most visible leader of an increasingly influential Latin American left, and has openly supported the candidacy of Nicaragua's long-time U.S. foe, Daniel Ortega, who is running for president on Sunday.







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