Hugo Chavez greeted by 'sea of red'

As the campaign for the Venezuelan presidential elections on December 3 entered its final month, the popular mobilisations in support of left-wing President Hugo Chavez increased in size and intensity. On October 30, thousands of residents of one of the largest communities in Caracas, Barrio 23 de Enero (Barrio January 23) braved intermittent rain to surround the truck carrying Chavez through the neighbourhood's hilly streets.

Named after the date dictator Perez Jimenez fell from power in 1958, the barrio is famous as the community that first mobilised to demand the return of Chavez after he was briefly ousted by a US-backed military coup in April 2002. It was also the neighbourhood that protected a number of Chavez government ministers during the coup, and which mounted a popular struggle to expel the corrupt metropolitan police from the suburb. The residents now carry out their own community policing.

A sea of people in red T-shirts and caps with the names of a multitude of social missions and other organisations of the Bolivarian revolution led by Chavez's government thronged the streets of a barrio predominantly made up of huge, multi-storey, housing blocks. As the caravan, consisting of a bright red truck with Chavez and other Bolivarian political leaders on top, wound its way through the area, the cheers and chants reached a peak.

Chavez said that eight years before, Venezuela was a "ghost ship", which navigated without direction, but that today, thanks to the consciousness of the people, it had been converted into a real vessel. He also admitted that it was "not yet a perfect ship, nor is it equipped with a perfect crew, nor is the captain perfect", the October 31 Ultimas Noticias reported. Chavez added that on February 2 "the new era of the revolution would be initiated" (when the victor of the presidential election formally takes office).

Green Left Weekly spoke to a number of residents who expressed their backing for Chavez, and their enthusiasm for the social gains of the Bolivarian revolution. One young woman, a single mother with a two-year-old child in her arms, explained how she supported Chavez, and that she was studying to be an electrician under Mission Vuelvan Caras (About Face). She was being paid a wage while she studied, and would become part of a cooperative to manufacture electrical components when she finished.

Another massive Chavez caravan was held in Petare, the single largest community in Caracas's west, on November 1. Hundreds of thousands of people in red shirts blocked the streets of the district as Chavez's truck-caravan slowly made its way through the area.

Before the event Chavez had said that, in his opinion, if the main opposition candidate Manuel Rosales won the election (an extremely unlikely prospect) and tried to expel the Cuban doctors who are staffing most of the free health-care clinics of Mission Barrio Adentro, as he has threatened to, Rosales's government "would fall in no time at all". Inaugurating 37 new popular medical clinics around Petare, Chavez repeated his confidence that he would win the election, a victory that would be dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the landing in Cuba of Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries in the Granma.

Similar huge caravans aimed to mobilise popular support for Chavez are being organised several times a week in various cities and regions around the country by the national campaign coordinating committee, the Miranda Command. The campaign has set itself the ambitious aim of winning 10 million votes for Chavez, from a total registered electorate of some 16 million.

Recent opinion polls conducted by reputable polling organisations have put Chavez at 55-58%, and Rosales, the main candidate of the right-wing opposition, at 26-28%. Support for other candidates has been running at 2%, and undecided voters at around 16-18%.

The pro-US opposition and the conservative Venezuelan corporate media have recently been touting polls conducted by a company linked to the US State Department that allegedly show a much closer vote, but these have been widely dismissed within Venezuela. The same company issued exit polls during the 2004 recall referendum, which aimed to force Chavez to face an early election, that showed a majority of people would vote against the president.

Chavez went on to win the referendum with almost 60% of the vote. At this stage, he seems on course to at least match this result on December 3.

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