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Venezuela: Chávez's goal "2-to-1 victory"

By Phil Gunson in Caracas, reprinted from The Miami Herald

CARACAS - Mon, Jun. 07, 2004 - In a two-hour speech before a massive rally in downtown Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced Sunday that he was taking personal charge of the campaign leading to an August referendum on his mandate.

''We have just one team, and a single manager, whose name is Hugo Chávez,'' he told the cheering crowds. The objective of the campaign, he added, would be to obtain twice as many votes as those seeking his recall. The latter celebrated Saturday with their own huge march the official announcement Thursday that they had gathered enough signatures for the referendum.

Describing the opposition as a ''devil'' with ''foreign masters,'' Chávez said what awaited them was, ``the most resounding defeat they have ever suffered in the whole of their history.''

The crowd of thousands of supporters, many of them wearing red berets, responded wildly with chants of ``Oh No! Chávez won't go!''

But Chávez also warned against underestimating ''the enemy,'' and called for five- or 10-person ''groups, or commandos'' to be formed in every town and barrio to ensure the registration of all pro-Chávez voters.

As expected, the organizational structure that unsuccessfully led the anti-referendum campaign -- the so-called Ayacucho Command -- has been relegated to a subordinate position in this new phase, which will be led by a newly created ''Maisanta Command,'' whose members have yet to be named.

The president acknowledged the criticism against the leaders of the Ayacucho Command. However, he paid tribute to their work and told his followers not to heed, ``intrigue that comes from the ranks of our adversaries.''

In what was clearly a bid to avert damaging splits in the movement, he also made a point of acknowledging the presence of some of the leaders of its radical wing. ''A kiss for Lina Ron,'' he said, waving to the rabble-rousing activist who recently told The Herald her supporters were ``armed to the teeth.''

Ron and the other radicals may also have been gratified to hear Chávez take up -- verbally at least -- one of their rallying cries. ''We must strengthen the organization from below,'' the president said. ``Let the popular organization grow from the base, from below, from the roots.''

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