With less than a month to go to the October 7 Venezuelan elections, we are beginning to see more hardball on the part of the incumbent Hugo Chavez against his opponent Henrique Capriles Radonski.
There is increasing resort to anti-Semitism to play up the fact that Capriles, although a devout practicing Catholic, is of Jewish extraction. One of the government controlled radio stations has recommended the notorious anti-Semitic forgery the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a must read. If Capriles were to be elected, Chavez surrogates warn, this would usher in the Zionist infiltration of the country.
This week red-shirted Chavez supporters attempted to block a major highway to prevent Capriles from reaching the town of Puerto Cabello. To counteract the incumbent's advantage of having the state media at his beck and cal,l Capriles has opted for a direct approach, barnstorming through as many communities as possible, including those that had never seen a presidential candidate in the flesh.
The blockade triggered an incident that had both sides hurling rocks and other objects at each other. The opposition candidate had to be airlifted into his campaign aircraft, but this does not always work because government traffic controllers have sometimes denied Capriles landing rights.
Hugo Chavez has also insinuated that if he is defeated, the result would probably be civil war and therefore he warned the rich to consider their families, vacation homes and other properties and vote for him a vote that would guarantee "peace, stability and economic growth."
Another tactic employed by Chavez is to ramp up public spending to create a feeling of prosperity amongst voters. Public spending grew this year by an inflation-adjusted 41% and the public expects a massive devaluation following the elections. The black market rate for dollars is 11.19 Bolivars to the dollar - in contrast with the official 4.3 exchange rates.
While most of the polls still view Chavez as major favorite, some pollsters predicted a dead heat and even a small advantage for the challenger. Even the polls predicting a Chavez blowout concede that this time there are an unusually high number of undecided voters.