Chavez promises a Socialist oil power, set for hurricane victory
CARACAS, Saturday, (AP) - Hugo Chavez has called George Bush the
devil, allied himself with Iran and inserted himself into election
races all over Latin America. He has poured Venezuela's oil wealth
into uplifting the poor, and rivals Fidel Castro as a defiant voice
of the left. Now, as he seeks another presidential term in an election
Sunday, he is telling Venezuelans this is only the beginning of
his effort to remake Venezuela as a socialist oil power.
A woman takes part in a Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's political
rally in Caracas. AFP
Chavez predicts a ''hurricane'' victory that will
secure a mandate for zero compromise on policies that inspire both
adulation and despair. Having survived a coup, a recall referendum,
a general strike and clashes with the Roman Catholic Church, business
community and opposition media, he has entrenched his power and
sharpened left-right divides beyond Venezuela's borders. His main
challenger, tough-talking state governor Manuel Rosales, trailed
far behind in an AP-Ipsos poll last month, but nonetheless has galvanized
a fractured opposition movement of millions desperately hoping he
can unseat Chavez.
''This is our last chance. This is the last time
we can stop him from ruining this country,'' says Margarita Nunez,
a 23-year-old university student in Caracas who firmly believes
that Chavez seeks to preside over a one-man communist system like
his Cuban mentor, Fidel Castro. ''If he wins, I have to find a way
to leave, go somewhere,'' she said.
Conflict and contradiction have marked Chavez's
rise from a boy who sold homemade desserts on the streets of Sabaneta,
a dusty backwater in the western Venezuelan plains. Now 52, twice
divorced with five children, he is Latin America's most forceful
leader. His speeches brim with homespun stories of his humble origins,
resonating with the many Venezuelans who approve of what he's done
for the poor.
''Chavez is a good person. He remembers what it
was like when the streets were full of mud and there were no schools,''
said Felicia Olivera, 70, who waited hours under a hot sun to hear
Chavez speak in Sabaneta. ''That's why he helps us.'' Others see
the former paratroop commander as a tyrant who has frittered away
billions of dollars needed at home on pet projects overseas. They
fear his vaguely worded plans for the future, and his promise that
his rule until now has been only the beginning of his so-called
Bolivarian Revolution, named for Simon Bolivar, who liberated much
of Latin America from Spain.
''A new era will be born next Sunday,'' Chavez
told a sea of supporters clad in Chavista red at another rally.
''There is no room in Venezuela for any other plan besides the Bolivarian
Revolution.'' Chavez first came to prominence as a paratroop commander
leading a failed coup attempt in 1992, and was elected six years
later on a wave of discontent with Venezuela's corrupt political
elite. He promises a new ''21st-century socialism'' which aims to
redistribute the country's oil wealth to the poor, mainly through
programmes that provide everything from subsidized food to cash
benefits for single mothers.