- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2007

CARACAS, Venezuela — Invoking Christ and Castro as his socialist models, President Hugo Chavez began his third term yesterday by declaring that socialism, not capitalism, is the only way forward for Venezuela and the world.

His first stop: Nicaragua, where leftist ally Daniel Ortega returned to power with his own inauguration hours later.

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 Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s famous call to arms.

Mr. Chavez also alluded to Jesus, saying: “I swear by Christ — the greatest socialist in history.”

In Managua, Mr. Ortega, former Sandinista guerrilla leader and U.S. nemesis, was sworn in as president almost 17 years after being voted out of office — in another gain for Latin America’s ascendant left.

Dressed in white, Mr. Ortega, 61, received the presidential sash in a ceremony that started an hour and a half late to wait for the arrival of Mr. Chavez.

Mr. Chavez was among 14 foreign heads of states and governments and 300,000 Nicaraguans attending the inauguration. 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 lawmakers to applause. He said that socialism — not capitalism — is the only way to guarantee well-being for Venezuela and for the world.

He said a commission was being formed to oversee proposed constitutional reforms, including one that would allow “indefinite re-election” by eliminating presidential term limits that bar him from running again in 2012.

Referring to criticism that the action showed he was a tyrant or doing the bidding of Mr. Castro, Mr. Chavez said, “The important thing is that the people will make the decision, because nothing can be done without that here.”

He has said in the past that Venezuelans should decide in a referendum.

Mr. Chavez also said he would ask the National Assembly, solidly dominated by his allies, for special powers allowing him to enact a series of “revolutionary laws” by decree.

He scolded leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Organization of American States for criticizing his decision not to renew the license of an opposition-aligned television station.

Addressing Venezuela’s top Catholic prelate, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, Mr. Chavez said he could not understand why the church supported Radio Caracas Television, which Mr. Chavez accuses of subversive activities aimed at ousting him.

“Mr. Cardinal,” Mr. Chavez said, “the state respects the church. The church should respect the state. I wouldn’t like to return to the times of confrontation with Venezuelan bishops, but it’s not up to me. It’s up to the Venezuelan bishops.”

Mr. Chavez attended a ceremony earlier yesterday at the tomb of Simon Bolivar, the South American independence hero who is the inspiration of Mr. Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” movement.

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