CARACAS, Venezuela – Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans jammed a major highway intersection Saturday to show their support for presidential candidate Manuel Rosales, vowing to vote the incumbent Hugo Chavez out of office in Dec. 3 elections.
Shouting "Dare To Change!" and waving red, yellow and blue Venezuelan flags, marchers departed from various points in the city of 5 million and converged on the Francisco Fajardo Highway, where they danced to Venezuelan folk music booming from loudspeakers and chanted anti-Chavez slogans.
The crowd filled the highway and overpasses and extended far down several converging streets while Rosales spoke from a stage in the middle of the masses.
He said government officials prohibited television camera crews from using helicopters to film the march from the air, saying "they don't want the people to see this multitude."
"They are scared," Rosales shouted, pumping his fists in the air and prompting loud applause from the crowd. "We are going to win on Dec. 3."
The demonstration was one of the largest staged by Venezuela's opposition in recent years. But Rosales — a state governor and cattle rancher who favors free markets over socialism — trails left-leaning Chavez by a wide margin, according to the results of a recent AP-Ipsos poll.
"After seeing this, nobody should have any doubts about Rosales' chances," said 43-year-old accountant Franklin Salas, pointing to demonstrators filling the highway.
More than 3,000 police were deployed along the march route to prevent clashes between Rosales supporters and pro-Chavez partisans who gathered on several street corners shouting "Viva Chavez!" as marchers passed. There were no reports of violence.
About 59 percent of those surveyed by the polling firm Ipsos for The Associated Press said they would vote for Chavez — a close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro — while 27 percent said they would back Rosales and thirteen percent were undecided or wouldn't answer.
The poll was carried out Nov. 10-18 among 2,500 registered voters interviewed face-to-face at their homes, including 1,500 determined by the pollsters to be likely voters based on their answers and historical turnout levels. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points for results among registered voters, and 3 points for likely voters.
"I don't believe all those polls," said Anibal Ramirez, an unemployed mechanic from the Caracas' impoverished Magallanes slum. "Rosales could be behind, but he's has all the momentum. Anything can happen here."
Chavez has said he wants to continue governing Venezuela until 2021 — or longer. He has asked the National Assembly, packed with his political allies, to consider changing Venezuela's constitution next year to allow indefinite re-election. It currently allows two consecutive presidential terms.
Chavez has promised to wipe out poverty and increased state control over the economy. Rosales argues private enterprise should play a broader role in the economy, and says that Chavez is steering the world's fifth-largest oil exporter toward Cuba-style communism.