Venezuela's Chavez Rolling Toward Election Victory

Caracas was the scene of a major campaign rally Sunday for supporters of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Hundreds of thousands turned out to hear Chavez predict an overwhelming victory in this Sunday's election. Polls show there's little doubt he'll secure another term.

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And I'm Renèe Montagne.

Caracas was the scene of a major campaign rally, yesterday, for supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Hundreds of thousands turned out to hear Chavez predict an overwhelming victory in this Sunday's election. Poll's show there's little doubt he'll secure another term.

NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

(Soundbite of chanting)

JULIE McCARTHY: Ooh Ah, Chavez no se va translates into Ooh Ah, Chavez won't go. The chant heard everywhere, from rallies to people greeting each other on the street, has become the campaign battle cry. But it seems as much a warning to anyone, who Chavez' supporters say, wants to topple their president.

Chavez accuses the Bush administration of plotting to oust him, a charge the U.S. routinely denies. But Chavez is never more eased with his audience as when he's raising the specter of Washington. His verbal broadsides at the Bush White House are part crowd-pleasing antic, part foreign policy. He's made that anti-U.S. government policy the centerpiece of his re-election bid.

President HUGO CHAVEZ (Venezuela): (Speaking foreign language)

McCARTHY: Remember that we are confronting North American imperialism, not, he says, this useless opposition from here. Sporting red, like many of his supporters, Chavez raises a pair of binoculars to survey the crowd that's hanging from bridges and overpasses to see him. The soldier, turned self-styled revolutionary, relishes what he calls the red tide before him.

To raucous cheers, he says, this election marks the next phase of his Bolivarian revolution, named for the independence leader, Simon Bolivar. And Chavez vows Venezuela will be remade, beginning in 2007 through 2021.

President CHAVEZ: (Speaking foreign language)

McCARTHY: Fourteen years to change Venezuela into a model world power - a moral, social, economic, political power. And you can write it down, he says. This is what we're playing for. Either we'd become a strong nation or return to the past, a little country enslaved and oppressed, Chavez says.

But why is U.S. imperialism at the heart of an election in which the opposition has targeted soaring crime, government intimidation of voters, and growing dissatisfaction over Chavez's energy deals with other countries - that critics called giveaways.

Chavez supporter Gustavo Odolfo Guardio-Castillo(ph).

Mr. GUSTAVO ODOLFO GUARDIO-CASTILLO (Chavez Supporter): (Speaking foreign language)

McCARTHY: Because we haven't been able to evolve, and we're convinced just because of U.S. imperialism, he says. We were sidelined from all the benefits of our own oil that we should have received years ago. That's why imperialism is at the forefront of our election, he says.

(Soundbite of Venezuelan music)

Chavez first galvanized Venezuela's poor with promises of a revolution. He dedicated this Sunday's election to Cuba's ailing Fidel Castro. But the middleclass tends to see Chavez as anti-democratic. Dare to, goes the opposition theme song, dare to speak out, dare to challenge injustice.

Opposition candidate, Manuel Rosales, condemns what he calls Chavez's authoritarian tendencies. He told the finale of his campaign this Saturday.

Mr. MANUEL ROSALES (Venezuelan Opposition Candidate): (Speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: I don't want to be president who controls power. I want powers to control the presidency, he said. Morales has united a fractured opposition and surprised observers by attracting at least a third of Venezuela's voters, according to polls. Chavez continues to enjoy a sizeable lead. Whatever the size of the victory might be, the United States is sure to be closely watching.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Caracas.

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