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Chavez get-out-the-vote machine knocks on doors

Sunday - 4/14/2013, 3:00pm  ET

Female presidential guard soldiers wait to vote in the presidential election at a polling station in Caracas, Venezuela, early Sunday, April 14, 2013. Interim President Nicolas Maduro, who served as the late Hugo Chavez's foreign minister and vice president, is running against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- It's nearly midday Sunday and pro-government community leader Richard Escobar is marshaling get-out-the vote forces just outside a polling station in his piece of Petare, one of Latin America's biggest slums.,

"Noon at the red rendezvous point," he repeats several times for emphasis to a man who will dispatch volunteers into steep hills jammed with brick homes to rouse laggards that they know will vote for Nicolas Maduro, the anointed political heir of Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer last month.

"We're planning at midday to comb all the stairways in the sector and knock on doors to make sure they vote," says Escobar. "Each person will go up a separate stairway."

During Chavez's 14 years in power his supporters consolidated grass-roots power in Petare, where a half million of Venezuela's 29 million people reside, by divvying out cash for soup kitchens, senior centers, nurseries and other services.

Nationwide, they built up a powerful machine staffed by several hundreds of thousands that compiles lists of government workers and recipients of government largesse and makes sure they get to the polls, even if they have to be driven there.

"If we don't go up into the hills and persuade the poor to vote, we're going lose," says Escobar, who says he recognizes Maduro is just an imitation of Chavez but calls the alternative, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, a murderer and a fascist.

At the Napoleon Baute school where Escobar was organizing, two in three of the 9,045 people who voted chose Chavez in October, when he defeated Capriles by nearly 11 percentage points nationally.

But Capriles, who governs the state that includes it, carried Petare with 53 percent.

Get-out-the-vote efforts are also strong in wealthy neighborhoods where Capriles is favored.

In Los Palos Grandes, an eastern Caracas district of shaded streets and pricey boutiques, groups of young people with megaphones paraded down sidewalks chanting, "You've got to vote. You've got to vote."

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