Caracas, November 29, 2007,
(venezuelanalysis.com) - Several hundred thousand opponents of Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez's proposed constitutional reform marched in Caracas today in their
final protest before the referendum on Sunday.
Opposition political parties and student groups
gathered in five points before marching to the capital's largest boulevard, Avenida
Bolivar, in central Caracas.
Waving US and Spanish flags, in support of Spain's
King Juan Carlos who told Chavez to "shut up" at the Ibero-American summit
recently and chanting "No to the reform!", protesters handed out glossy
leaflets claiming the reform will lead to a dictatorship.
With their designer sunglasses and jewellery, opposition
protesters were noticeably better off than their Chavista counterparts, who
come predominantly from the poorer areas.
However, Chavez supporters had painted
pro-Chavez and pro-reform graffiti all over Avenida Bolivar before the
opposition march arrived, and waved pro-reform posters out of windows as
opposition supporters marched past.
Several speakers at the march affirmed their
conviction that the "No" vote against the reform will win on Sunday.
Henrique Capriles Radonski, the opposition
mayor of the upper middle class neighbourhood Baruta in Caracas, said to the
gathered crowd, "To the CNE [electoral council] we say, we know that this time
we are the majority and there will be people who will go out to defend their
vote, one-by-one. We are not armed, but we are no fools and will defend our
political right to be equal Venezuelans."
The reform, if adopted, would, among other
things, reduce the work week to 36hrs, remove presidential term limits,
recognize new forms of property such as communal and social property, and give
more power to grassroots communal councils.
While Chavez's personal popularity is high, opinion
polls show mixed results, with polling firms linked to the opposition showing
the reforms being overwhelmingly defeated and others closer to the government
showing strong victory for the reforms.
Chavez says that it is up to the Venezuelan
people to decide; if the reforms are defeated he said in a televised interview
yesterday, "I will start to pack my bags because I will have to leave the
government." However, Chavez assured he is confident that the reforms will be
approved by a "crushing majority."
Chavez has also accused the opposition of
planning to refuse to recognize the results if they lose and claim fraud. However,
he says the Venezuelan electoral system is free and fair and the National
Electoral Council has confirmed that 1,600 international observers will monitor
The final pro-reform rally is set to take place
tomorrow. Rather than take their usual fourteen kilometre march route, which
passes through the wealthy opposition suburbs in the east of Caracas, Chavez supporters have instead
called only for a rally in Avenida Bolivar, in an attempt to avoid violence.
Opposition protests have turned violent at
times, and tensions have heightened in recent days after opposition protesters
shot and killed a Chavez supporter in Valencia on November 26.