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-US 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 said 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, 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.
Monday’s celebration came less than two weeks before the Feb. 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 firercely anti-liberal president, who has more than 57 percent approval ratings, could stand for re-election in 2012.
Chavez muscled through a 1999 constitutional amendment that removed the one-term limit to the presidency, leading to his 2006 reelection for a second, five-year term.