Chávez Sets Plans for Nationalization

Venezuelan reporter Miguel Ángel Rodríguez talks with staff members at RCTV, whose license was not renewed.
Venezuelan reporter Miguel Ángel Rodríguez talks with staff members at RCTV, whose license was not renewed. (By Fernando Llano -- Associated Press)
By Juan Forero
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 9, 2007

BOGOTA, Colombia, Jan. 8 -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on Monday announced plans to nationalize the country's electrical and telecommunications companies, take control of the once-independent Central Bank and seek special constitutional powers permitting him to pass economic laws by decree.

"We're heading toward socialism, and nothing and no one can prevent it," Chávez, who won a third term in a landslide election in December, said in a speech in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital.

The announcements were made as the president swore in a 27-member cabinet that includes ministers who analysts say will likely be more closely allied with the president's far-reaching goals.

Those appointments, combined with the new economic measures, are sure to escalate tension with the Bush administration, which regards the Venezuelan leader as a threat to democratic institutions. Chávez's administration, in turn, has accused the United States of meddling in its affairs.

"The people of the world, little by little, are increasingly expressing that idea: no more imperialism," Jorge Rodríguez, the new vice president and a former electoral board official, said at the ceremony Monday. "We are obligated and committed because the people have given us a clear message once and again, and that message is, we must rise up to construct a socialist country and move the Bolivarian revolution forward."

In the ceremony, marked with revolutionary fervor at the Teresa Carreño theater, the government also announced two new ministries, for telecommunications and indigenous peoples. Since Chávez's presidency began in 1999, the number of ministries has risen from 13 and the number of public sector workers has doubled to nearly 2 million.

Political analysts said they were not surprised by the measures and the tone of Chávez's speech, because he had previously pledged to take what he describes as his "revolution" into overdrive.

Last week, Chávez decided to not renew the broadcast license of RCTV, a Caracas television station long critical of his administration. That move prompted swift condemnation from press freedom groups.

"In effect, we're living a process of radicalization," said Luis Vicente León, who directs the Datanalisis polling firm. "He had announced that there would be a new stage in the production of the revolution, and here it is."

In his bid to accelerate economic reforms, Chávez said he would seek to have the National Assembly give him special powers that would permit him to approve economic laws by decree. The plan would have little or no opposition in the 167-member body, which has not had an opposition politician in its ranks since the president's foes boycotted elections in 2005.

"I move forward with my request for a revolutionary enabling law," he said. "We already have the document prepared. We are making the final revisions, and we solicit special powers."

The president also spoke about the need for Venezuela's most important oil fields, those in the Orinoco belt in the northeast, to be brought under state control. The projects in that region, which the government says contains more oil than any other patch in the world, were developed in the late 1990s by foreign multinational firms such as Exxon Mobil, BP, Chevron and Total of France.

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