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Tuesday, Sep 24, 2019

Chavez seeks to radicalise Venezuela in new term

The re-elected Venezuelan president will be sworn in today for a new term ending in 2013 while promising a radical socialist revolution.

india Updated: Jan 10, 2007 12:12 IST

Re-elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will be sworn in on Wednesday for a new term ending in 2013 while promising a radical socialist revolution and nationalisations that have dragged down financial markets.

Emboldened by his landslide victory last month, the anti-US leader has brazenly courted controversy, refusing to renew the license of an opposition television channel and vowing to take over major companies, including some owned by foreign investors.

"We are moving toward a socialist republic of Venezuela," the leader of the OPEC nation said on Monday, outlining policies such as stripping the central bank of its autonomy and asking Congress to grant him special legislative powers.

Financial markets took fright at the deepening of Chavez's leftist drive. The stock market lost almost a fifth of its value on Tuesday, debt prices tumbled to a six-week low and the currency changed hands at nearly twice the official rate.

The opposition has accused Chavez, in power since 1999, of seeking to transform the fourth-biggest oil exporter to the United States into a Cuban-style centralised economy.

Chavez, who won 63 per cent of the vote in December, has amplified comparisons with Cuban leader Fidel Castro by forming a single party to steer his revolution, but insists he will always tolerate opposition.

He already controls parliament and the judiciary and has said only his supporters can work in the army and state oil company.

By focusing on the media and utilities, he is homing in on two sectors that could complete his state control.

Chavez insists he needs more power to save Venezuela from exploitation and even attack by capitalist countries, particularly the United States, whose President George W. Bush he has labelled "the devil."

Chavez's nationalisation plans remain hazy and the utilities and foreign investors want to know whether he plans to take a 51-per cent governing stake or seize all of their enterprises.

Chavez has already confiscated large cattle ranches, run by the likes of British meat producer Vestey, to distribute to farmers.

"He is speaking like the master of Venezuela ... he is trying to drive Venezuela into the darkness," opposition leader Manuel Rosales said.

But Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro defended the plans.

"This is a rescue mission for the sovereignty of Venezuela."

First Published: Jan 10, 2007 12:12 IST