Chavez Pushes Ahead With Nationalization Plans

Jan. 31, 2007— -- Venezuela's Congress met at a plaza in Caracas Wednesday and gave final approval to legislation that would allow President Hugo Chavez to enact sweeping measures.

Hundreds of Chavez supporters wearing red -- the color of Venezuela's ruling party -- gathered at the plaza, waving signs reading "Socialism is democracy!" as lawmakers gave the president special powers for 18 months to transform 11 broadly defined areas, including the economy, energy and defense.

Chavez has called the legislation essential to help begin a phase of what he calls "maximum revolution" during which he will consolidate Venezuela's transformation into a socialist society.

The Congress has been wholly loyal to Chavez since the opposition boycotted the 2005 presidential elections.

President for Life?

The BBC reports that some observers think Chavez also wants to change Venezuela's constitution to scrap presidential term limits as part of his "socialism for the 21st century" program. Chavez is just starting a six-year term that will expire in 2013.

Chavez has already announced plans to nationalize the country's oil and telecommunications industries. Such a move would affect companies like Exxon, Chevron and Verizon, and could cost them millions of dollars. There are no indications that the companies will get any compensation.

The Bush administration has been at odds with the Chavez government. In a testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, career diplomat John Negroponte, who is set to take the No. 2 spot in the State Department, said of Chavez, "I do not think he has been a constructive force in the hemisphere."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.