Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez Begins New Term with Promises of Nationalizations, Deepened Socialism
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez formally moved into his second full term in office at a swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 10, following his huge victory in December (see NotiSur, 2006-12-15). Prior to the ceremony, he named a new vice president and Cabinet in preparation for the "radicalization" of his socialist, "Bolivarian" plans for Venezuela. He seeks to nationalize companies that were privatized in the past and has called for the nonrenewal of the broadcasting license for an opposition-aligned media outlet. The former move received criticism from investors while the latter angered press-freedom groups and other Chavez critics.
"Homeland (patria), socialism, or death. I swear it."
Invoking Christ and Castro as his socialist models, Chavez began his third term by declaring that socialism, not capitalism, is the only way forward for Venezuela and the world.
At the apex of a resurgent Latin American left, Chavez has been emboldened to make more radical changes at home after winning re-election with 63% of the vote, his widest margin ever. The increasingly popular and populist presidents of the region are not only strengthening ties within the region, but also globally with other developing nations like Iran (see NotiCen, 2007-01-18).
Chavez's proposed moves include nationalizing electrical and telecommunications companies, forming a commission to oversee constitutional reforms, and asking the Asamblea Nacional (AN), now entirely controlled by his supporters (see NotiSur, 2005-12-16), to allow him to enact "revolutionary laws" by presidential decree.
His right hand raised, Chavez declared in words reminiscent of Cuban leader Fidel Castro's famous call-to-arms, "Homeland (patria), socialism, or death--I swear it." He also referred to Jesus, saying, "I swear by Christ--the greatest socialist in history."
In the speech he read from the New Testament to show how Christ's apostles practiced socialism. He said that the central aim of his term would be "to build Venezuelan socialism." Chavez told lawmakers to applause, "I don't have the slightest doubt that is the only path to the redemption of our peoples, the salvation of our country."
Chavez is now set to remain president until 2013--or longer if he gets his way with a constitutional amendment allowing him to run again (see NotiSur, 2006-07-21).
He immediately left on a postinauguration trip to Nicaragua, where he joined leftist ally President Daniel Ortega, who returned to power in an inaugural ceremony just hours later. Chavez's re-election capped a series of Latin American presidential votes, and he joined many of his closest allies in Managua. Also on Ortega's guest list were Ecuador's President-elect Rafael Correa (see other story in this edition of NotiSur) and Bolivia's President Evo Morales. Acting Cuban leader Raul Castro sent a high-level delegation.
Back in Caracas, Chavez said a commission was being assembled to consider constitutional reforms to be decided in a popular consultation, including one allowing "indefinite re-election" by doing away with presidential term limits that bar him from running again in 2012. "The important thing is that the people will make the decision, because nothing can be done without that here," Chavez said, dismissing criticism that he is becoming authoritarian or taking orders from Castro. Chavez did not say how Venezuelans would be consulted on the reforms. But in the past he has mentioned a possible referendum.
Chavez came to power after winning an election in 1998, and he won a full six-year term in 2000 after a new Constitution expanded the length of the presidential term (see NotiSur, 1998-12-11 and 2000-08-04).
Chavez criticizes his critics
Displaying blunt confidence during his inaugural speech, Chavez scolded leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Organization of American States (OAS) for criticizing his decision not to renew the license of the opposition-aligned television station. …