"Socialism isn't going to fall from the sky. We are going to understand it, work on it, plant it, sweat it."
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
President Hugo Chavez returned to his weekly radio and TV broadcast Sunday, telling US officials to "Go to hell!" for what he called unacceptable meddling in Venezuelan affairs and calling US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "missy."
Extolling the ideals of socialist thinker Karl Marx, Chavez defended his government's effort to establish a socialist model and rejected US concerns over a measure to grant him broad lawmaking powers, saying: "Go to hell, gringos! Go home!"
Chavez, who has repeatedly referred to US President George W. Bush as "a drunk," "a donkey," and the "devil," slammed US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for trying to impose Washington's vision for democracy in the Middle East on Venezuelan allies like Syria, calling her "missy."
The National Assembly, controlled by the president's political allies, is expected to give final approval this week to what it calls the "enabling law," which would grant Chavez authority to pass a series of laws by decree during an 18-month period.
On Friday, US State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said that Chavez's plans under the law "have caused us some concern."
Chavez, who this month announced plans to nationalize Venezuela's main telecommunications company and the electricity and natural gas sectors, says the law will permit profound changes in areas ranging from the economy to defense.
Relations between Caracas and Washington have been tense since a 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chavez, who accused the US government of playing a role in the putsch. The Bush administration has repeatedly denied involvement, but recognized an interim government established by coup leaders.
Criticizing excessive consumption and self-indulgence, Chavez also announced plans to raise domestic gasoline prices and approve a new tax on luxury goods such as private yachts, second homes and extravagant automobiles.
"The one who will pay is the one who fills up the BMW," Chavez said of the gasoline tax.
He did not give details of the gasoline price hike, which he said would not affect bus drivers who provide public transportation, or the luxury tax. He said revenue from the new measures would be put toward government social programs.
In Venezuela - one of the world's leading petroleum exporters - gasoline costs as little as US$0.12 a gallon ($0.03/â‚¬0.03 a liter) due to government subsidies.
In typical style, Chavez spoke for hours Sunday on his return after a five-month hiatus to the weekly program "Hello President," sending best wishes to ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro and commenting on topics ranging from watching dancing Brazilian girls wearing string bikinis at a recent presidential summit to Washington's alleged role in the hanging of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Holding up a newspaper with a photograph of him gazing at a string bikini-clad Brazilian dancing samba during a summit last week in Rio de Janeiro, Chavez laughed and said: "I didn't know where to look ... It was truly a thing of beauty."
Regarding Hussein's death, he said: "They took out Saddam Hussein and they hung him, for good or worse. It's not up to me to judge any government, but that gentleman was the president of that country."
Chavez urged Venezuelans to embrace "21st-century socialism," which he said aims to curtail what he sees US cultural domination and redistribute the country's oil wealth to the poor through programs that provide subsidized food and cash benefits for single mothers.
"Socialism isn't going to fall from the sky. We are going to understand it, work on it, plant it, sweat it," said Chavez, praising Marx's ideals. "Socialism is built on practice."
Chavez said government officials were considering new legislation that would force business to set aside several hours a week for employees to study, and he recommended they read leaflets outlining socialist concepts.
A former paratroop commander who revels in the role of talk-show host, Chavez suspended "Hello President," saying that broadcasting the weekly program would have constituted unfair use of state airtime ahead of December presidential election.
Chavez was re-elected to a six-year term in a landslide vote.
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