The international and domestic campaign against the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez has dramatically escalated in the lead up to the February 15 referendum to remove the restriction on elected official standing for office if they have already served two terms.
Slanderous accusations of "anti-Semitism", violence and even a coup plot have marked the desperate opposition's campaign to foil an almost certain victory in the referendum, allowing Chavez to stand again for the presidency in 2012.
Numerous violent opposition protests have occurred over the last month. On January 14, opposition students went as far as setting fire to the Waraira Repano National Park on the northern edge of the city of Caracas, destroying more than 3 hectares of forest.
A further indication of the violent intentions of the opposition were revealed on February 11, when Chavez announced that a number of active soldiers had been arrested as part of foiling a possible coup attempt orchestrated by "a soldier on the run in the United States".
The security forces also discovered rocket launchers, rocket-propelled grenades and C4 explosives during raids in states currently controlled by opposition governors, Carabobo, Tachira, Zulia and Nueva Esparta.
Meanwhile, the media has unleashed a virulent slander campaign accusing the Venezuelan government of anti-Semitism following the January 31 attack on a Jewish synagogue in Caracas. The attack came in the wake of Chavez's decision to expel the Israeli ambassador to Venezuela and break off diplomatic ties with Israel over its massacre in Gaza.
AP reported on February 2 that 16 US congresspeople sent a letter to Chavez condemning the attack and requesting that he put an "end to intimidation and harassment of the Jewish community", despite having no evidence that the government, which strongly condemned the attack, was involved.
Chavez should "lower the hostile tone of his rhetoric against the State of Israel", they added.
The truth behind the attack was revealed on February 8, when the government announced that seven police officers, including one who during the last four years worked as a personal security guard for the synagogue's rabbi, and four civilians had been arrested for their involvement in the attack.
One of the security guards at the synagogue was also arrested for his role in cutting off the alarm system from inside the building, facilitating access for the attackers.
Following these announcements, Elias Farache, the president of the Venezuelan-Israelite Association, stated that the Jewish community of Venezuela was "grateful" for the interest shown by the government "in the case and their diligence in the investigation to apprehend the perpetrators of this act".
None of this, however, has stopped the slander campaign against Venezuela.
On February 9, US State Department spokesperson Robert Woods raised "concerns" over "anti-Semitic activity in Venezuela".
The Washington Post jumped on board the Venezuela-bashing bandwagon with a slanderous February 12 editorial titled "Mr. Chavez vs. the Jews".
Noting the sharp rise in support of a "yes" vote in the referendum according numerous polls, the Post concluded that this is due not to "rational argument" but rather "a propaganda and intimidation campaign".
A key target of this supposed campaign, according to the Post, are Jews, "which seems to have replaced George W. Bush as Mr. Chavez's favorite foil".
Sighting anti-Semitism as part of Chavez's "legacy", Florida Congressperson Connie Mack introduced a resolution into the House of Representatives to demand "free and fair elections" in Venezuela and "to stand with the Venezuelan people in their fight for freedom from the iron fist of Hugo Chavez".
Venezuelan electoral processes have been heavy scrutinised during Chavez's time in office due to opposition claims of "fraud".
No evidence for such fraud has ever been produced by the opposition or international observers, the latter having continuously declared Venezuelan elections to be among the freest in the world.
The real intent of the resolution is to build up support for pre-planned cries of fraud by the opposition if it loses on February 15.
The active collaboration of the US government with the Venezuelan opposition campaign was revealed following a secret meeting in Puerto Rico on January 8, which involved opposition party leaders, media barons and US officials.
On February 12, Chavez once again called on the opposition to commit themselves to respecting the results of the referendum, asking "why don't they say that they will recognise the vote? The answer is that they have a plan of violence, of street protests ... a plan to seek out coup-plotting soldiers ..."