Home>News Center>World

Chavez puts on show of strength before referendum
Updated: 2004-08-09 08:58

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez led a rally of hundreds of thousands of supporters Sunday one week before a crucial referendum on his rule, which he said would be a contest between him and U.S. "imperialism."

The extrovert left-wing populist leader joined the huge crowd in Caracas in a noisy chorus of "Noooooo!," urging Venezuelans to cast their ballots against opposition plans to try to vote him out of office in the Aug. 15 poll.

Thousands of supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez rally in downtown Caracas to express their backing for Chavez a week before the recall referendum on August 15. [AFP]
The outcome of the recall vote is too close to call. The government and opposition have both put out opinion polls, each predicting that its side will win.

In a rambling three-hour speech mixing songs, poetry, history and quotes from Holy Scripture, Chavez defended his rule as a revolutionary crusade to help Venezuela's poor and reject U.S. meddling in the world's No. 5 oil exporter.

"We mustn't forget that we're facing U.S. imperialism," Chavez said. A vote against his recall in the referendum would be "Christ's vote against imperialism," he added.

The United States is the biggest single buyer of Venezuela's oil, but Chavez accuses U.S. President Bush of trying to topple him and has threatened to cut off oil shipments if the United States intervenes in its affairs.

Washington rejects these accusations.


Dismissing his opponents as incapable of ruling, Chavez warned the U.S. government that defeat for him in the referendum could trigger unrest and instability in Venezuela, which could send already high oil prices shooting up to $100 a barrel.

"Only we can guarantee peace," he said.

Since he was elected in 1998, six years after leading a failed coup, Chavez's rule has split Venezuela between foes who see him as a bullying demagogue and supporters who hail him as a champion of the poor.

Wearing red, the symbol of Chavez's self-styled revolution, the president's supporters overflowed a central avenue in Caracas. Many were bused in from outside the capital.

"We want to show the world the president has support in Venezuela," said Marcos Laserna, a street vendor.

Slogans on the demonstrators' banners, T-shirts and caps urged Venezuelans to "Vote No" to oppose the recall of the firebrand president, who was comfortably re-elected in 2000.

Much is at stake in the referendum.

For Chavez's critics, it marks their last opportunity until December 2006 elections to vote out a president they vilify as a fledgling dictator leading Venezuela to Cuba-style communism and economic ruin.


For Chavez, losing power would mean an interruption of a left-leaning nationalist program, which he presents as a model for Latin America.

Opposition sympathizers Sunday held concerts in east Caracas urging a "Yes" vote to recall the president.

World leaders hope the referendum will resolve Venezuela's political crisis.

But some observers fear a close vote could worsen the polarization and trigger fresh outbreaks of the political violence that has killed dozens of people over the last three years. This included a short-lived 2002 coup.

To recall Chavez, the opposition must equal or beat the 3.76 million votes he received when he was re-elected in 2000. But if the no vote against his recall is bigger, he stays in office.

If Chavez loses next Sunday's referendum, a presidential election will be held within 30 days. The Supreme Court still has to rule on whether he can run in that poll.

  Today's Top News     Top World News

Shanghai: Sex bias exists in local job market



Gay men get fast HIV tests in Hangzhou



Prosecutor: Big graft cases increase



Experts divided over macro control measures



Militants kidnap Iranian diplomat in Iraq



76 Chinese rescued from deadly England tide


  Militants kidnap Iranian diplomat in Iraq
  Chavez puts on show of strength before referendum
  Senior al-Qaeda operative captured in UAE
  Migrant deaths spark fears about Italy security
  Iraq issues warrants for Chalabi, nephew
  UN offers to help end fighting in Iraq
  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools  
  Related Stories  
Chavez warns US about '100-year war'
Chavez talks peace but warns US over oil supplies
Chavez lashes out at Bush as opposition negotiates on recall
  News Talk  
  How Kerry Can Beat Bush