Christopher Toothaker, Associated Press Writer
The Boston Globe
01 December, 2006
CARACAS, Venezuela --Recorded bugles blared from loudspeakers in city plazas Friday as President Hugo Chavez's party mobilized a get-out-the-vote campaign, handing out fliers and preparing fleets of motor scooters to ferry voters from slums to polling centers.
It is all part of a highly coordinated effort to secure a sweeping re-election on Sunday for Chavez, who says he wants to win 10 million votes in a country with just 16 million registered voters.
His opponent, the veteran opposition leader Manuel Rosales, calls the vote a choice between democracy and an increasingly authoritarian Cuba-style system.
At a rally late Thursday, Rosales supporters shouted out his campaign slogan: "Dare to change!" They beat on pots and pans in spots across Caracas and blew whistles while fireworks lit up the sky.
In the city's poor barrios, meanwhile, Chavistas were organizing the masses.
"Get ready to defend the revolution! We all have to vote. It's our duty," 28-year-old Jairo Antonio Smith bellowed through a bullhorn. Smith was hawking CDs with a recorded bugle call that Chavez supporters plan to blast over loudspeakers as a pre-dawn wake-up on Sunday.
In Caracas' San Augustin slum, pro-Chavez volunteers like Ivan Aponte made last-minute repairs to motor scooters they will use to take voters to the polls.
"This is where the votes are, and they belong to El Comandante," Aponte said, motioning to his sprawling hillside slum.
Rosales' campaign, which draws its strongest support from the middle and upper classes, plans to mobilize more than 2 million volunteers across the country as election monitors.
At an upscale Caracas villa on Thursday night, more than 2,000 Rosales supporters raised their hands and swore to prevent any attempts to tamper with ballots by remaining at polling stations until final results are announced.
"If it means staying there until the next day, we'll do that," said Gloria Alvarado, a 34-year-old nurse who said she would bring sandwiches and coffee to watch over boxes containing slips generated by electronic voting machines. "We must be ready to defend our votes."
After swearing in another crowd of volunteers in the western city of Barquisimeto, Rosales repeated a warning that the vote must be clean.
"We don't accept dirty tricks," Rosales said.
Rosales supporters cite polls predicting the vote will be tight, although an independent AP-Ipsos survey and other recent polls found Chavez with a large lead.
Chavez said in a late-night TV appearance Thursday that if the opposition contests the results -- by claiming fraud, provoking disturbances, or other ploys -- he will immediately call a referendum on whether to change the constitution to end presidential term limits.
He has mentioned such a plan regularly in recent months, regardless of how the opposition responds to the result. The current constitution would bar Chavez, in office since 1998, from running again in 2012 unless term limits are eliminated.
Tensions have risen ahead of the vote. On Friday in Caracas, people lined up outside banks to make withdrawals and stocked up on groceries in case of postelection trouble.
But the head of the European Union's 130-member delegation to monitor the vote, Italian EU deputy Monica Frassoni, said she noted a "lower level of tension" than in past votes here.
Information Minister Willian Lara warned against opposition protests, saying security forces would step in if needed.
"If any of these small groups try to disturb the public order and the calm climate ... the state will act diligently and restore public order," Lara said.
Chavez said Thursday that intelligence agents recently foiled a plot for a sniper attack on Rosales during a speech. Rosales' campaign said it had no knowledge of the plan.