Venezuela's Chavez Sworn in for 3rd Term
Chavez sworn in for 3rd term, free to remake Venezuela as socialist state
CARACAS, Venezuela, Jan. 10, 2007
By IAN JAMES Associated Press Writer
(AP) President Hugo Chavez echoed Fidel Castro's cry of "socialism or death" as he was sworn in for a new six-year term on Wednesday, promising to accelerate Venezuela's transformation into a socialist state.
Chavez took the oath of office at the National Assembly after a sweeping re-election victory that has given him free reign to pursue more radical changes, including plans to nationalize power and telecommunications companies.
His right hand raised, Chavez declared: "Fatherland. Socialism or death _ I swear it," invoking the Cuban leader's famous call to arms.
Chavez also alluded to Jesus, saying: "I swear by Christ _ the greatest socialist in history."
In a speech that followed, he said the central aim of his term that runs until 2013 will be "to build Venezuelan socialism."
"I don't have the slightest doubt that is the only path to the redemption of our peoples, the salvation of our fatherland," Chavez told lawmakers to applause. He said he believes that socialism _ not capitalism _ is the only way to guarantee well-being not only for Venezuela, but the world.
Chavez has said he will ask the National Assembly, solidly dominated by his allies, for special powers allowing him to enact a series of "revolutionary laws" by decree. While the changes remain vaguely defined, Chavez said Monday "all of that which was privatized, let it be nationalized."
With oil profits booming and his popularity high, Chavez seems to be in step with many Venezuelans even as spooked investors rushed to sell off Venezuelan stocks in the affected companies after his nationalization announcement Monday.
Chavez attended a ceremony earlier Wednesday at the tomb of Simon Bolivar, the South American independence hero who is the inspiration of Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution" movement. He then rode in an open car, blowing kisses and waving to supporters who tossed rose petals, to the National Assembly, where he installed for a third term that runs until 2013.
After Chavez was sworn in by National Assembly President Cilia Flores, some lawmakers shouted "Viva socialism!"
Chavez, an admirer of the 80-year-old Castro, has said he is crafting a new sort of "21st century socialism" for Venezuela. Critics say it is starting to look like old-fashioned totalitarianism by a leader obsessed with power.
"They want to nationalize everything. This is the beginning," said Marisela Leon, a 47-year-old engineer who said she might consider leaving the country because she sees difficult times ahead.
White House press secretary Tony Snow suggested Tuesday that Venezuela was making a mistake by nationalizing companies, which he said "has a long and inglorious history of failure around the world."
The U.S. government also has expressed concerns about Chavez's plan _ as yet vaguely defined _ to bring under state control four lucrative oil projects now run by foreign companies in the Orinoco River basin.
But most of Chavez's largely poor supporters remain optimistic. Miguel Angel Martinez, a 52-year-old street vendor, said the president "has dedicated himself to studying communist, socialist and democratic models and has taken the best of those models."
Orlando Vera, a 63-year-old window washer, said nationalization makes sense for companies that serve the public interest. "Everything the man is doing is good," he said, adding that his economic situation has improved under the Venezuelan leader.
During the election campaign, Chavez said he would seek constitutional reforms including scrapping presidential term limits, which bar him from running again in 2012. This week, he also called for a constitutional amendment to strip the central bank of its autonomy.
First elected in 1998, Chavez has cemented his popularity by using a bonanza in oil profits to set up state-funded cooperatives and fund social programs from subsidized grocery stores to free universities.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted three weeks before Chavez was re-elected on Dec. 3 found 62 percent of those asked supported nationalizing companies when in the national interest _ a result that paralleled Chavez's victory with nearly 63 percent of the votes.
But that support also has its limits. The poll found 84 percent said they oppose adopting a political system like Cuba's, despite Chavez's reverence for Castro.
The nationalization moves seem to be a throwback to past efforts that were complete failures, opposition politician Teodoro Petkoff said. What is really on display, he said, is the "autocratic power" of a president who can act without checks and balances.