Chavez celebrates 10 years in office
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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez celebrated 10 years in office on Monday, summarizing the past decade "in three words: revolution, independence, and socialism." He recently launched a campaign for indefinite reelection.
AFP - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Monday boasted that his socialist revolution was on track as he celebrated 10 years in office before a group of Latin American leaders.
This past decade can be summed up "in three words: revolution, independence and socialism," the fiercely anti-American president said beneath the statue of Venezuela's forefather Simon Bolivar, a replica of whose sword he received to honor the occasion.
"This sword saw Bolivar die and we could say it died with him ... nobody saw it ever again," Chavez, 54, said in a speech, two weeks before a referendum that could keep him in power for a long time.
"Ten years ago, on a day like today, the sword reappeared after nearly 200 years. Ten years ago, Bolivar became the people and returned with his liberating sword," he added in an obvious reference to when he was first sworn in 1999.
Thousands of people lining one of Caracas' main avenues cheered as Chavez waved from an open-top car when he made his way to the Bolivar monument accompanied by presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Manuel Zelaya of Honduras.
To celebrate his milestone in power, Chavez declared a national holiday on Monday.
Also present to celebrate Chavez's 10th anniversary were Cuban Vice President Jose Ramon Machado and Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.
The leaders later held a meeting in the framework of the Bolivarian Alternative initiative, better known as Alba, which Chavez and Cuba created in 2004 to promote a Latin American free trade zone as a counterweight to US trade efforts in the region.
In foreign policy, the fiercely anti-US Chavez has cultivated ties with countries which could counterweight Washington's traditional influence in the region, including Russia, Belarus, Iran and China.
Monday's celebration came less than two weeks before the February 15 referendum on a constitutional amendment already approved by Congress that would do away with term limits for the president and all other elected officials in Venezuela.
If the text is approved, the fiercely anti-liberal president, who has more than 57 percent approval ratings, could stand for re-election in 2012 when his second -- and until now last -- term expires.
Chavez muscled through a 1999 constitutional amendment that removed the one-term limit to the presidency, leading to his 2006 reelection for his second, five-year term.
"There have been errors and inefficiency in these 10 years but also positive changes for the country that should not be reversed," said Luis Fuenmayor Toro, rector of the Central University of Venezuela.
Toro lauded strategic businesses that are now in the hands of the state, government infrastructure projects, social programs and increased citizen participation, adding that Venezuelans were now less able to be manipulated than in the past.
Chavez detractors criticize the concentration of power in the president's hands and the transformation of public institutions into government puppets.
The most recent polls show the country literally divided in half, in a polarization felt in the streets, the media, and the way politics are carried out.
The latest survey by Datanalisis polling company suggested the "yes" vote would just win with 51.5 percent, with 48.1 percent for the "no."
The government referendum campaign claims that "without Chavez all is lost": public schools, free health care, and freedom of choice.
The opposition says the amendment will end the principle of the rotation of power. Venezuelans already rejected a similar bid by Chavez to permit indefinite presidential rule in a referendum on broad constitutional reform at the end of 2007.
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