In a sure sign that (T)Hugo Chavez is actually worried as heck that even his control of the levers of elections in Venezuela might not be enough to ensure "democratic" approval of his taking on the position of dictator for life, he is lashing out wildly in all directions. Trying to drum up voter hysteria is nothing new for the red-shirted thug, but this time there is a wildness to it that stinks of desperation.
Chavez has tried to rally his followers in the last days of the campaign with fiery rhetoric against opponents at home and abroad, and he warned at a huge rally on Friday that he would retaliate if the U.S. government interferes in the referendum.
"There will not be a single drop of oil for the United States," Chavez bellowed to hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters in downtown Caracas. "And if they want to come and take our oil they will face 100 years of war in Venezuela."
Most polls show a statistical tie for the "Yes" and "No" votes in Sunday's referendum.
Chavez's heavy spending on social programs has made him popular with Venezuela's poor majority but critics accuse him of seeking dictatorial powers and many moderate supporters are concerned that the reforms would give him too much power.
He portrays the vote as a plebiscite on his rule. "Whoever votes 'Yes' is voting for Chavez, and whoever votes 'No' is voting for George W. Bush, president of the United States," he said.
Chavez has for long accused Washington of backing a failed coup against his rule in 2002. Venezuela provides about 12 percent of U.S. oil imports and the leftist leader has often threatened to cut off the sales, but he has never done so.
Political analysts say he wants to convince supporters that Venezuela is again at risk and they need to rally around him by voting to expand his powers.
Chavez also threatened on Friday to cut ties with Spain and nationalize Spanish businesses in Venezuela if King Juan Carlos does not apologize for telling him to "shut up" at a recent summit in Chile.
Something tells me that Chavez is more than a little worried right now. His economic policies are already beginning to make the Venezuelan economy suffer, many long-time political allies are very publicly deserting him and decrying his takeover attempt and things are really not looking good for Chavez right now. Will it be enough to stop him? I don't know. But he looks like he is feeling cornered. He does not look like he is holding a winning hand. We'll see.
UPDATE: More from the Washington Post:
CARACAS, Venezuela, Nov. 30 — On the eve of a referendum that President Hugo Chávez has cast as a plebiscite on his rule, the populist leader is escalating his verbal assaults on foes real and imagined, picking a fight with neighboring Colombia one day and assailing Catholic Church leaders as "mental retards" the next.
Chávez's behavior appears increasingly unpredictable, but some political analysts say the bluster may be a tactic designed to generate support for the constitutional changes that Venezuelans will vote on in Sunday's referendum. Although a few weeks ago the proposals had been expected to receive easy approval, polls released last week showed that the opposition could ultimately prevail in a tight contest.
"He's decided that his best tactic to recover the control of his movement is to instill fear in his people that there's a world conspiracy against Venezuela," said Demetrio Boersner, a political analyst and former diplomat. "It's a tactic that uses histrionics as a weapon to unite the people so they vote for him on Sunday."
He's used this same old, worn out shtick to whip up support before. At some point, people get tired of the calling of "Wolf!" Maybe this time he'll get a surprise.