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Chavez attacks rival at massive hometown rally

Throngs of supporters gather in Sabaneta, Venezuela, as Chavez rides a caravan through a jubilant crowd.

SABANETA, Venezuela: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sang, greeted throngs of supporters and launched a searing attack on his rival as he stormed into the final stretch of his re-election campaign.

Chavez rode a caravan through a jubilant crowd of thousands clad in his leftist party’s red in his hometown of Sabaneta Monday, the start of a tour taking him to six states over three days before Sunday’s vote.

“I salute my dear town. I salute this nest of my life,” Chavez said, pointing out how the local trees had grown since his childhood in the southwestern town of 40,000 people. “Viva Sabaneta! Viva la revolucion!”

While the left-wing leader, in power for 14 years, remains the favorite to win a new six-year term in the election, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has closed the gap by half to 10 points in the latest opinion poll.

In a new attack against Capriles, Chavez accused his rival’s campaign of receiving cash from drug trafficking.

“These great businessmen have brought a lot of money to his campaign, and it has come from abroad too, from fugitive bankers, some mafias, money laundering, drug trafficking,” Chavez told reporters.

Chavez did not provide more details to back his accusation.

The opposition says 80 percent of the Capriles campaign funds come from raffles, street fundraising and Internet donations. They counter that the president misuses public funds to promote his re-election bid.

In an interview with AFP, Capriles said Chavez was “sick with power,” adding: “All world leaders who end up sick with power, end badly.”

He went on to accuse Chavez of lavishing social services on his supporters, saying: “For me, this is fascism. These are fascist practices.”

One day after addressing hundreds of thousands of people in Caracas, Capriles took his campaign to the southern states of Amazonas and Bolivar Monday, voicing confidence that he could pull off a major upset.

“I do not think that this is going to be a close race. I think we can win by more than 1 million votes,” Capriles told foreign reporters. “This government will not have a hard time acknowledging its defeat.”

With just days to go before Sunday’s election, Chavez charged that a Capriles victory would mark the return to power of “the bourgeoisie, big corruption and the Yankee [U.S.] empire.”

Later Chavez addressed another rally in the northwestern town of San Carlos, where he declared the “bourgeoisie has plans to destabilize” the country and the “far-right plans to not recognize the people’s victory.”

During his Sabaneta tour, Chavez, who says he has beaten cancer, returned to his old energetic style, sending greetings to old neighbors, friends and relatives while recounting childhood memories and breaking into song.

“At that other street corner, over there, is where I was born,” the 58-year-old former paratrooper said.

With music blaring in the background, his fans tried to get near Chavez to shake his hand or pass personal notes.

“He’s the best president we’ve ever had,” said 60-year-old Juana de Sanjuan. “He cares about the poor. If another becomes president, it will all be over and Venezuela will be a disaster again.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 03, 2012, on page 11.

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