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Chavez's fate lies in Venezuela's divided barrios

Associated Press Modified: October 6, 2012 at 12:31 pm •  Published: October 6, 2012
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"That's not the government's fault," interrupts in her neighbor, Jacinto Suarez, a 69-year-old former beer truck security guard.

Oh yes it is, she says, because Vice President "Elias Jaua is behind the communal councils and the president is behind him."

The councils allow Chavez's political machine to bypass local and state governments, sometimes controlled by the opposition, and reach the grass roots.

Suarez is a committed Chavista, and his house is being rebuilt. During Friday's visit by Associated Press journalists, two laborers were plastering the brick and mortar that replaced the rickety wood and cardboard walls.

"For me, if 'El Flaco' wins the missions will go away. We'll all die. We'll all die of hunger," Suarez says. "He's with the bourgeoisie."

Nonsense, Villamizar retorts.

"They will continue," she says of the missions, "because if they don't it will be a horrendous mess."

Venezuelans, whose oil-export driven economy produces little else, have become more dependent than ever under Chavez on state handouts and Capriles has expressed no intention of weaning them from government aid.

He has painted himself a center-leftist, promising to keep the missions and not to thin public payrolls. Capriles is, however, solidly backed by Venezuela's right and that has stoked fears of a huge purge of Chavez loyalists if he wins.

The fears have fueled sporadic violence. Little has been lethal, but two Capriles supporters were shot dead last weekend in the president's home state of Barinas, and some blamed Chavez supporters.

Two days ahead of voting, Villamizar echoed a widespread feeling that the race is so close that the election will be decided by a large pool of voters, perhaps 10 percent, making up their mind in the voting booth.

Opinion polls have varied widely and are largely considered unreliable, so intuition is getting a workout.

"There are so many Chavistas, so many people who live in this barrio ... who are public employees and have been obliged to attend government rallies," she said. "But when it comes to the moment of truth are not going to vote for Chavez," she said.

"And there are others who will do the opposite."

Villamizar said she had no idea what would happen Sunday.

"I'll tell you, I don't know. I just don't know. Let it be what God wills. "

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Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda contributed to this report.