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Montevideo, September 22nd 2023 - 05:57 UTC



Desperate efforts from Chavez to ensure his victory

Saturday, December 1st 2007 - 20:00 UTC
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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened Friday to interrupt oil exports to the United States if violence breaks out after a controversial and hotly contested weekend referendum.

Addressing tens of thousands of followers in the heart of Caracas at the closing rally for Sunday's vote, Chavez announced he was sending the army to "protect" all of the country's oil fields. "If 'Operation Pincer' is activated Sunday or Monday, there won't be a drop of oil from Venezuela to the United States," Chavez said, referring to what he has often claimed is a CIA operation to topple him from power. "If this (referendum) is used as a pretext to start violence in Venezuela, (Energy) Minister (Rafael) Ramirez on Monday will order that oil exports to North America be stopped," he said. "I have ordered the defense minister ... to put in place plans to protect our oil fields and our refineries. As of this night (Friday), they will be protected by the army," he said. Chavez also deepened a running row with Spain, whose King Juan Carlos recently told him to "shut up" by threatening to nationalize Spanish banks in Venezuela if the monarch did not apologize. The warnings upped the stakes over the referendum, which polling companies said was too close to call. Chavez, opposition figures and analysts have all said they fear a close result will be viewed with skepticism by the losing side and trigger violence. Surveys in the past have tended to underestimate the level of support Mr Chavez enjoys The 53-year-old leftist leader is facing his biggest-ever challenge at the ballot box over the proposed constitutional reforms. Even Chavist loyalists in Venezuela's myriad urban slums are balking at supporting them. With the result on a knife-edge, Chavez has taken to calling all opponents to the changes "traitors" and portraying the referendum as a struggle between his "economic socialism" and US "imperialism." "A vote 'yes' is a vote for Chavez -- a vote 'no' is a vote for (US President) George W. Bush," he told the crowd Friday. But protests against the referendum have also gathered impressive strength, culminating Thursday in a huge rally that denounced Chavez's plan as a bid to turn Venezuela into a Cuba-like communist state. The proposed constitutional changes indefinite reelection of the president and lengthen his mandate from six years to seven. It would also allow the government to censor the media in times of "emergency," and take over the central bank and expropriate property to guarantee food supplies. Anyhow analysts believe that a tight vote on such fundamental changes for the country will only deepen the divide in Venezuelan society. Chavez needs an overwhelming victory as he has managed in other polls to legitimize the reforms he wants to make effective as of next Sunday.

Categories: Politics, Latin America.

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