Bush chides Chavez over nationalization plan

Wednesday, January 31, 2007; 2:59 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush expressed concern on Wednesday at Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's plans for nationalizing his country's oil and utility assets.

Venezuela's Congress on Wednesday granted Chavez decree powers enabling him to push through a nationalization program that is at the heart of his self-styled leftist revolution.

Asked about Chavez's plan for a government takeover of some businesses, Bush told Fox News Channel's Neil Cavuto:

"Well, it's a hypothetical. My worry, of course, is that the nationalization of industry will make it harder for the Venezuelan people to be lifted out of poverty, will make it harder for the people to realize their full potential."

"I'm concerned about the Venezuelan people, and I'm worried about the diminution of democratic institution(s), as well as nationalization efforts that may or may not be taking place," Bush said, according to excerpts from a transcript of the interview, to be broadcast later on Wednesday.

Venezuela is the fourth largest oil exporter to the United States and Washington, which has been at odds with Chavez for years, had previously criticized the nationalization plan unveiled earlier this month by Chavez.

The Venezuelan leader is known for his fiery anti-U.S. rhetoric and is a close ally of Cuban President Fidel Castro. The White House said that any U.S. firms affected by nationalizations must be compensated fairly.

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