- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

12:51 p.m.

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez echoed Fidel Castro’s cry of “socialism or death” as he was sworn in for a new six-year term today, promising to accelerate Venezuela’s transformation into a socialist state.

Mr. 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, Mr. Chavez declared: “Fatherland. Socialism or death — I swear it,” invoking the Cuban leader’s famous call to arms.

Mr. 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, which 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,” Mr. Chavez told applauding lawmakers. He said he believes that socialism — not capitalism — is the only way to guarantee well-being not only for Venezuela, but the world.

Mr. 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. Though the changes remain vaguely defined, Mr. Chavez said Monday, “All of that which was privatized, let it be nationalized.”

With oil profits booming and his popularity high, Mr. 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 on Monday.

Mr. Chavez attended a ceremony earlier today at the tomb of Simon Bolivar, the South American independence hero who is the inspiration of Mr. 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 was installed for his third term.

After Mr. Chavez was sworn in by National Assembly President Cilia Flores, some lawmakers shouted, “Viva socialism.”

Mr. Chavez, an admirer of the 80-year-old Mr. 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 yesterday 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 Mr. 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.

During the election campaign, Mr. 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.

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