January 12, 2008
CARACAS -- President Hugo Chávez said Friday he will try again to change Venezuela's rules to allow unlimited presidential reelection -- a proposal rejected by voters just last month.
Making his annual address to the legislature, Chávez said he would call a referendum in 2010 with two questions: Should the president be recalled and should the president be allowed ``indefinite reelection?''
Chávez's proposals for 60-plus constitutional reforms to allow, among other things, indefinite reelection and officially declare Venezuela to be a ''socialist'' nation were narrowly defeated in a Dec. 2 vote.
Chávez's six-year term of office is to expire in 2013. But the president has often said that he intends to remain in power until the 2020s.
Chávez also repeated previous threats to seize private property from businesses if they are caught hoarding products, even as Venezuela struggles with high inflation and shortages of some basic foods.
He warned that price speculation is occurring ''at all levels of society, from the big capitalists to the small shopkeepers,'' and said his government could expropriate property from individuals or companies that purportedly sit on goods for months to sell them later at inflated prices.
Annual inflation soared to 22.5 percent in 2007 -- the highest official rate in Latin America -- according to the Central Bank.
Chávez -- a close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro -- has made similar threats in the past. No such takeovers have occurred so far, however, and Venezuela continues to have many private supermarkets and food distributors.
Some food staples covered by price controls -- sugar, cooking oil, milk, black beans, eggs and chicken -- are sporadically hard to find in supermarkets, and Chávez's critics warn that shortages are likely to persist as long as the price controls are maintained.