Thousands marched Saturday in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, in support of the main opposition candidate in the country's presidential election later this year. The opposition leader, Manuel Rosales, is challenging leftist President Hugo Chavez in the December election. Another rally in support of Rosales was held in Miami.
Venezuelan opposition groups in south Florida called on their countrymen to take to the streets ahead of the December 3 presidential elections. Some 400 Venezuelan-Americans turned out in a downtown bayside park, waving Venezuelan flags and chanting "Manuel Rosales for President"
The rally was staged on the same day as a far-larger demonstration in Caracas, where thousands marched in the biggest show of public support yet for Rosales, the main opposition candidate.
The Social Democrat challenger is the governor of Venezuela's oil-rich Zulia state. Mainstream opposition leaders chose him in August to be their unity candidate to take on the fiery Chavez at the polls. An opposition activist in Miami, Ernesto Ackerman, explains why the motto of the rally was "Dare to be vigilant"
"We already had one election that was stolen [from] us," he said. "I think this is the last chance that Venezuela becomes democratic again. And that is why we are vigilant, that this election should end up the right way, throwing out Chavez."
Many in Venezuela were disappointed with the failure of a 2004 referendum to oust Mr. Chavez. Some activists say the opposition has been intimidated by President Chavez' growing control of the branches of government, including the electoral commission that runs elections. Venezuelan government authorities insist the elections will be fair, and say they have invited the Organization of American states to send observers.
Activist Ernesto Ackerman says the opposition does not trust Mr. Chavez' voting machines, and would prefer that each vote be counted by hand.
"What Chavez doesn't accept is a manual counting," Ackerman said. "We want to count the votes one by one, manually. We don't want his machines."
U.S. Census figures indicate that more than 40,000 Venezuelans live in South Florida, and a total of 18,000 Venezuelans across the United States are registered to vote in the December elections.
Early polls show Chavez in the lead but indicate Rosales is gaining strength in recent weeks.