CARACAS-- The countdown to the Venezuelan elections has officially begun. With less than 24 hours to go, the tension in the polarized country is palpable.
In past elections there have been rumors of violence, but they never amounted to much. This time around, with President Hugo Chávez forced to contemplate the possibility of handing over the country to opposition leader Henrique Capriles, some Venezuelan radical groups think that violence is a true possibility.
Threatening graffiti messages have popped up on the streets of Caracas portraying slogans like, "Everything with Chávez, bullets without him," "It's not enough to vote, we have to fight" and "There's a candidate, there's a commander, there's a united people ready for combat."
But this is not all. In an interview with the Spanish newspaper ABC, Alberto "Chino" Carías, the head of the radical paramilitary group known as "Los Tupamaros" said that if the opposition did not recognize Chávez's "sure victory," there would be "bullets."
Los Tupamaros is one of several left-wing militia groups operating in Venezuela. Newspapers like ABC have published reports linking such groups to the Chávez government, but it is not clear whether the Venezuelan president personally backs Los Tupamaros.
Carías, the Tupamaros leader, defines himself as a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla fighter, who maintains contact with Venezuelan terrorist Carlos Ramírez -- also known as "Carlos the Jackal" -- who is now imprisoned in France. Carías has lost count of how many people he's murdered, he told the the Spanish newspaper ABC, because "after ten [murders] you stop feeling remorse." His group, the Tupamaros, are political allies of Colombia's FARC guerrillas.
In the interview, Carías said that the Tupamaros were "prepared and well armed" and that they were ready to attack any opposition group who dared protest the results, assuming the results favor Chávez. If Capriles wins, Carías stated that his group would then be on "active" resistance. "A government led by Capriles will have the people agitated and mobilized. Chávez taught us that," Carías said.
Carías wouldn't mention how many people are part of the Tupamaros movement, only saying that they have cells all over the country that are ready to act. He also refused to say where their financing comes from.
Although Carías assures violence, many Venezuelans are convinced that if Chávez loses the election he will accept the result as he did when he lost a vote over constitutional reforms back in 2007.
"We've already had 14 years without crossing the red line, without a civil war, in spite of the [country's] deep polarization," political analyst Manuel Malaver told ABC/Univision. "Chavismo as a political force is debilitated, so I think that the possibility of Chávez accepting the results is favorable."
When asked about a recent shooting in the town of Barinitas where three opposition activists were killed Carías simply stated, "there are deaths in every war."