CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday embraced socialism as his ideology of choice in a political statement that
sharpened his antagonism against the United States.
Chavez, a firebrand nationalist who has governed the world's No. 5 oil exporter for six years, has persistently declined to define the precise
ideology of his self-styled "revolution."
But, addressing an international meeting on poverty in Caracas, he said Western-style capitalism was incapable of solving global economic and social
"So, if not capitalism, then what? I have no doubt, it's socialism," said Chavez, who also rebuffed U.S. criticism of his left-wing rule in
Venezuela and denounced U.S. President George W. Bush as the "great destabilizer of the world."
Since coming to power, he has irritated Washington by developing alliances with China, Russia and Iran and flaunting a close personal friendship with
Cuba's Communist President Fidel Castro, a longtime foe of the United States.
Chavez's public support for socialism recalled Castro's defining announcement in the early 1960s that his 1959 Cuban Revolution was
Chavez said he had up to now avoided labeling his political program in Venezuela as "socialist."
But he added his personal experience in power, which included surviving a brief coup in 2002, had convinced him that socialism was the answer. "But
Chavez, who won a referendum in August ratifying his rule until early 2007, said previous experiences of socialism in the world -- an apparent
reference to the former Soviet Union -- might not be the example to follow.
"We have to invent the socialism of the 21st century," he added.
Venezuela's 1999 constitution promoted by Chavez enshrines a multi-party political system and he has denied he is a communist. But he has intensified
state intervention in the economy, encouraged the formation of cooperatives and is pursuing land reforms critics say threaten private property.
Chavez resumed his aggressive stance just a day after his vice president, Jose Vicente Rangel, called for talks with the United States and said
Caracas was ready to help fight terrorism and drug-trafficking and keep oil flowing to the United States.
But Rangel had also echoed Chavez's anti-U.S. criticisms, and U.S. diplomats here complain their requests for meetings with government ministers are
Who is destabilizing?
While Venezuela remains a key oil supplier to the United States, Chavez has this year stepped up a war of words with the United States. U.S. Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice has called him a "destabilizing influence" in Latin America.
A former paratroop officer, Chavez was first elected in a 1998 election, six years after leading a botched coup bid.
Opponents of the Venezuelan leader, whom Chavez dismisses as puppets of the United States, accuse him of ruling like a dictator and dragging the
country toward Cuba-style communism.
In what Caracas calls "impertinent" meddling, U.S. officials are also opposing Venezuela's purchase of Russian helicopters and automatic rifles for
its armed forces.
"The only destabilizer here is George W. Bush, he's the big destabilizer in the world, he's the threat," Chavez said. He has condemned the
U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Chavez also repeated charges that the increased U.S. criticism was preparing the ground for an attack against Venezuela and included a plan to
assassinate him. U.S. officials have rejected this as "ridiculous."