Venezuela: Is Chavez Forcing People to Attend His Rallies?

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Photos of letters in which high-level government officials tell their employees to go to Chávez rallies circulate on Facebook and Twitter.

On Thursday, Univision correspondent Elyangelica Gonzalez also received this picture from a source who works in the Ministry of Finance. It's a kit of Chávez gear that was allegedly handed out to ministry employees to wear at Thursday's rally.

It was easy during Thursday's rally to bump into all sorts of public employees. We spoke to folks from the Ministry of Health, from the Ministry of Commerce and from social initiatives like the Mercal supermarket program.

All of them –save for the man from the telecoms company- said they had come to the rally because they genuinely supported Chávez. But some admitted that they had been bused in for free, from cities that are far from Caracas.

Miguel Angel González came from San Fernando de Apure, a town that is 243 miles away from Caracas, on a bus hired by Misión Ribas, a government-run social program.

"Lots of people had to stay back in San Fernando because there were no more buses left," González said. "They were upset they couldn't come," he claimed.

Freddy Planchard, a worker at a government-run foundation, came to Caracas from Puerto La Cruz, a town that is a five-hour drive away from the country's capital.

He said he came in along with dozens of people from his town in a bus paid for by the national oil company PDVSA. But Planchard saw no conflict in a government agency funding his trip to a political rally.

"PDVSA belongs to the people now, and it is doing the community's work, as it is supposed to," Planchard said.

Chávez held a great party on Thursday. The size of the rally, which flooded four avenues in downtown Caracas, showed that the Venezuelan president's campaign is able to mobilize large numbers of people, even if it is using state funds to do so.

But how many of the president's supporters are genuine, and how many are just pretending to be Chávez followers in order to avoid negative repercussions at work or in their neighborhoods?

Is it also possible that there are large numbers of voters who say they are undecided, but who actually support Capriles, as a recent article by El Nuevo Herald, suggests. Sunday's vote will provide an answer to these questions.

(Photos by Manuel Rueda.)

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