CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez is vowing to accelerate his drive to turn Venezuela into a socialist state and urging his supporters to become "true revolutionaries" as they prepare for crucial political battles ahead.
"Radicalize the revolution!" Chavez trumpeted in a newspaper column published on Sunday, calling on his allies to "create truly revolutionary groups; the vanguard of the people, a party and movement that guarantees the construction of socialism."
The president's party is gearing up for next weekend's local elections of two state governors and eleven mayors, including the head of Maracaibo, Venezuela's second-largest city. Pro-Chavez candidates hope to win most of the posts following a disappointing showing in September congressional elections.
Chavez sees the vote as an important precursor to the 2012 presidential vote.
Chavez wrote that his re-election is indispensable "to secure the continuity of the revolutionary process."
Chavez remains the country's most popular politician, even if his support has flagged recently.
The opposition has promised to hold primaries to pick a contender capable of beating Chavez, capitalizing on the president's failure to resolve domestic problems ranging from rampant crime to double-digit inflation.
"An opposition victory in Maracaibo could weaken Chavez," especially at time when he's seeking to boost his popularity while confronting a wave of domestic woes, pollster Luis Vicente Leon of the Caracas-based firm Datanalisis said in a telephone interview.
An opposition loss "would be an important victory for Chavez," said Leon, noting that Maracaibo has traditionally been a bastion for foes of Chavez.
Chavez also warned on Sunday that Washington is conspiring to derail his Bolivarian Revolution, a political movement he named after 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar.
He wrote that Venezuela's opposition, sided with U.S. officials, aim to provoke political upheaval — even deadly violence — to undermine the government.
Venezuelans must "impede the pro-imperialist and anti-patriotic right from pitting misled Venezuelans against security forces to fill Venezuela's streets with blood," wrote Chavez, quoting a recent column penned by his close friend and mentor, Cuba's Fidel Castro.