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24 Sep, 2010 19:10

Opposition, pro-Chavez parties battle in upcoming election

It's an outstanding view from the top of one of the finest hotels in Caracas, Venezuela. But on the ground, there is a different reality.

A class war between the wealthy and poor. It's a political battle that has been playing out in Venezuela since President Hugo Chavez came to power in 1998. It happens in almost every election. And the upcoming parliamentary election is no exception.

It is what has politically mobilized both sides of the class divides. The scenes at the opposition rallies and the pro-Chavez rallies contrast and are as distinct as day and night

It is what the people of Venezuela are calling, "One of the most important elections this year," said Beaselis Guerra, a pro-Chavez supporter.

The celebration that RT attended was actually a political rally. This week marks the end of the 2010 election campaign season.

What is at stake here is the Parliament. Whoever gains the majority in the National assembly will have the authority to pass new laws in the country.

And so the hordes spill into the streets, both for and against the Chavez system. The Chavez supporters site the gains the current system has brought to the country's poor.

"The system we have right now, that is not communist at all, is working for poor people. That is why people love Chavez, because we can study, we can go to universities, we have free education, we have free food and good food, that is why we support Chavez," Guerra said.

Before Chavez came to power, the poor were marginalized in Venezuela. According to statistics from the Venezuelan National Statistics Office, poverty in the country has dropped by 70 percent in only 14 years. In that time, the Chavez experiment, as it is often referred to, has introduced sweeping reforms for the poor. From free healthcare, free education, subsidized transportation programs and food, to nationalizing the country's oil supply. The latter of which has given Venezuelans cheaper gas than water. Such decisions sanctioned by the Chavez government have also engaged foreign oil companies looking to benefit from Venezuela's oil; the fourth largest supply in the world.

Ramon, a young Chavez supporter from one of the many barrios in Caracas recalls how the previous system in Venezuela waged a class war against the poor.

"Before Chavez, it was like a long night, the poor were excluded from the country's wealth. This represents our aspirations for freedom and emancipation, because Chavez sees people as human beings. He fights for us," he said.

But the opposition has different views.

Opposition candidate Antonio Ecarri of the Accion Democratica party, of the opposition parties advocating 'Justice First' said, "Chavez has not just destroyed Venezuela, he has destroyed Latin America. He has destroyed our values as citizens. He has brought out the worst in us."

If the worst means seeking foreign money to help their cause, it's not sitting well with the Venezuelan people. In government newspapers, articles exposing the hefty figures from US government funded NGO's are causing Venezuelans to cry foul in this election; insisting the money is going directly to opposition forces.

On one of the government radio stations, one caller suggested "The aid from the United States government is going to the opposition to overthrow Chavez and the reforms he has given us for a capitalist system that goes back to the oppressive regimes of this country."

Guerra said, "I don't know if it is true or not, but the United States has always been trying to take Chavez out of power."

However, the opposition says there is no link between the dollars pouring into this country and their campaigns.

When RT asked one opposition supporter about the claims that opposition parties could be linked to US aid funding and benefit the rich of Venezuela, he dodged the question.

"We're going to get rid of Chavez through votes and democracy. That's why we're going to vote on September 26 against Chavez's socialist communist project. Twenty first century socialism hasn't helped us, it has hurt us" said Tomas of the Miranda district.

Pro-Chavez elements also insist the opposition is composed of the wealthy elite with a prejudice towards the majority poor

Victoria, a supporter of the pro-Chavez parties said, "I hate discrimination and that is what the opposition does. That's why people don't trust them, they discriminate. The blacks over there, the whites over here, the Indians over there. I am white so I am more powerful than you? no no no no!"

From day to night, both sides are behind two different messages. One is calling for a balance in a parliament dominated by the government’s parties and a more capitalist system. The other is praising the political structure currently in place, one with a socialist agenda. Depending on which way the pendulum swings in this election, the governing system of Venezuela will ultimately follow. 

Robert Naiman, the policy director at US based Just Foreign Policy said the political process in Venezuela is partially a system of class warfare. He also argued that in every election since 1998 has been Chavez vs. the opposition.

There has been a great deal of debate on whether or not the US is funding opposition groups in Venezuela. Naiman explained that we simply cannot know what the US government is doing.

We don’t know what the US government is doing because the US government is not transparent. Even as a United States citizen you can’t go to the US government and say, hey are you funding, who are you funding in Venezuela, what are you finding them to do? The US government won’t tell you,” said Naiman.

However, via the Freedom of Information Act individuals and groups can learn what occurred in the past.

For example we know that groups that were involved in the coup against the Chavez government were funded by the United States, that’s been admitted,” he said.

Today we also know a number of US organizations, NGO’s and government agencies are active in Venezuela and may be working with opposition groups.

Chavez has referred to the opposition candidates as “Yankee empire candidates”.

The US has played a role in Venezuela in the past, as has the US media. But because of a lack of transparency we cannot know the details of the current influence for surer, explained Naiman.