Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has again taken the oath of office, following a landslide re-election in December. The former paratrooper is promising to continue socialist reforms thast he says are aimed at helping the nation's poor. But VOA's Brian Wagner reports a new call by Mr. Chavez to nationalize key businesses is raising concerns about the nation's economic future.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez began a new six-year term, during a ceremony with newly elected lawmakers at the National Assembly.
Swearing to uphold the nation's constitution, Mr. Chavez said he would give his life to defend the South American nation and his socialist policies.
Mr. Chavez said he will carry out the mandates of what he called a marvelous constitution, and the mandates of the Venezuelan people. He ended the oath, saying homeland, socialism or death.
Since his landslide re-election, the Venezuelan leader is showing no sign of backing away from the policies which have sparked criticism that he is trying to build an autocratic regime.
Recently, Mr. Chavez announced plans for sweeping changes to the presidency, such as an end to term limits and the power to impose laws though presidential mandate. He also said he wants to nationalize the nation's main telephone and electricity companies.
The proposals suggest a more radical approach than before, says Terry McCoy, professor of Latin American studies and political science at the University of Florida.
"He is using his victory in the election as a mandate to do that," he said. "He talks about socialism. In the past, it was kind of a figure of speech but now he is actually talking about building an economy in which the state actually owns the means of production."
The latest proposals by Mr. Chavez may affect Venezuela's international relations. White House spokesman Tony Snow, recently expressed concern.
"Well, nationalization has a long and inglorious history of failure around the world," he said. "We support the Venezuelan people and think this is an unhappy day for them."
Relations between the United States and Venezuela have suffered in recent years. U.S. officials have repeatedly warned about efforts to restrict the political opposition in Venezuela, and Mr. Chavez has threatened to cut oil sales to American buyers.
Despite the rhetoric from Caracas, Professor McCoy says such a break in oil sales is unlikely.
"One has always thought that Chavez would be careful in avoiding a major break," he said. "I guess that is still what we would expect. This makes it more difficult, makes the relationship more problematic."
At home, Mr. Chavez has received broad praise for anti-poverty efforts, such as inflation controls and increased food distribution. Many observers in Venezuela and abroad will be watching for more details on his latest plans.