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He now has a favorable Congress and judges, but just as he turned to his socialist economic agenda, lower oil prices and the global economic crisis cut into the money he had to take over and run companies.

Polls repeatedly have shown Venezuelans oppose expropriations. Mr. Chavez is focused on maintaining his majority in September congressional elections and on his own re-election in 2012.

He repeatedly has said he would not use Cuba or the collapsed Soviet Union as an economic model, noting that even his mentor Fidel Castro has advised him: “Chavez, remember this isn’t 1960.”

Victor Alvarez, an economist and former mining minister for Mr. Chavez, said the aim is to build a new sort of “social economy” sector made up of worker-managed companies, farming cooperatives and other community-run businesses.

“The objective isn’t for the state to have the greatest weight in the economy, because that would be simply repeating the experience of 20th-century socialism,” said Mr. Alvarez, who has been studying the transition to socialism at a government-sponsored research institution.

A plan prepared in 2007 by the government projected that such “social economy” businesses and the public sector would together become larger than the private sector by 2013.

Mr. Chavez knows he is still very far from that goal.

But he says he won’t give up, using one of his favorite mantras: “We invent or we fail.”