Venezuela's Hugo Chavez begins new six-year term

"Socialism or death," he says at the swearing in ceremony; "I swear by Christ, the greatest socialist in history."

chavez  berfore swearing (photo credit: AP)
chavez berfore swearing
(photo credit: AP)
President Hugo Chavez echoed Fidel Castro's cry of "socialism or death" as he was sworn in for a new six-year term on Wednesday, vowing to accelerate Venezuela's transformation into a socialist state. Chavez took the oath at the National Assembly after a sweeping re-election win that has given him free reign to pursue more radical changes, including plans to nationalize power and telecommunications companies. His right hand raised, Chavez declared in words that echoed Fidel Castro's famous call-to-arms: "Fatherland. Socialism or death, I swear it." He also alluded to Jesus: "I swear by Christ, the greatest socialist in history." 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. With oil profits booming and his popularity high, 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. "Everything the man is doing is good," said Orlando Vera, a 63-year-old window washer, adding that his economic situation has improved under Chavez. As for the nationalization plan announced Monday, Vera said it makes sense for companies that serve the public interest. Chavez, an admirer of the 80-year-old Castro, has said he is crafting a new sort of "21st Century Socialism." 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. In Washington, White House press secretary Tony Snow suggested on Tuesday that Venezuela was making a mistake by nationalizing companies, which he said "has a long and inglorious history of failure around the world." An Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted three weeks before Chavez was re-elected on Dec. 3 found 62 percent of those asked supported nationalizing companies when in the national interest, a result that paralleled Chavez's victory with nearly 63 percent of the votes. But that support also has its limits. The poll found 84% said they oppose adopting a political system like Cuba's, despite Chavez's reverence for Castro.