Chavez also lambasted members of Venezuela's business elite who have been among his most vociferous critics. Blaming them for opposition campaigns against him and conspiracies to destabilize his government, he also accused many of them of failing to pay taxes and falsely declaring business losses.
He singled out owners of banks, newspapers, TV stations and soft drink companies and said a new tax law was being prepared that would toughen penalties against offenders. He threatened confiscation of properties. ``That's justice,'' he said.
The president accused his opponents of spreading false alarmist rumors in a bid to stir up discontent in the armed forces and damage Venezuela's image abroad.
``Hugo Chavez, as a person, as the commander-in-chief, as a soldier, and with me the people and the revolution, are supported by the armed forces,'' he said.
His choice of language closely echoed that habitually used by Cuba's veteran president Fidel Castro, for whom Chavez has expressed friendship and admiration.***
June 25, 2001 - Venezuelan Land Reform Pits Rich Against Poor*** This scarred hillside amid the lush forests of the Henri Pittier National Park, 60 miles along Venezuela's rugged central coast from Caracas, has become a battleground of Chavez's two-year-old ``peaceful revolution'', which is pitting rich against poor in his South American nation.
The former paratrooper's imminent plans for a Land Law to redistribute unused property in a quest for social justice have raised the expectations of the impoverished majority of the 24 million Venezuelans, but alarmed wealthy elites.
Ranchers have blamed the commotion surrounding the upcoming law for a flurry of land invasions this year and some violent clashes, while business leaders complain it has scared investors and undermined constitutional property rights.
Chavez, a leftist firebrand, won fame in a botched 1992 coup before taking the presidential palace seven years later via the ballot box with a mandate to topple ``corrupt elites''.
``There are rich families with vast lands which aren't even theirs: they have no titles or their deeds are fake and should be thrown away,'' said the president, vowing the Land Law would redress property theft by estate owners since colonial times.
``This land belongs to us, the country people. With all our hearts we voted for Chavez, because we thought he would accommodate us,'' said Leon's wife Romelia. ``They will only get us out with a direct order from Chavez. ... If they want to see angry farmers, then we'll show them what that means.''***
July 15, 2001 - Chavez suspends issuance of gun liscenses to ranchers*** Ranchers living along the country's remote 1,400-mile border with Colombia face the constant threat of kidnapping and extortion by Colombia's leftist guerrillas who can cross the border. Common criminals and gangs often cooperate with rebels.
Earlier this year cattlemen proposed forming private militias to fend off local criminals and rebels from neighboring Colombia. The idea was abandoned as President Hugo Chavez suspended the issuance of new gun licenses and threatened to jail would-be militiamen.***
February 4, 2002 - "Day of Jubilation"*** The disputed 10th anniversary of the bloody revolt led by Chavez against then-President Carlos Andres Perez sharply divided followers and opponents of the firebrand former paratrooper who now rules the oil-rich South American country.
Chavez, who won the presidency through the ballot box six years after failing to seize power with the gun, had declared the Feb. 4 anniversary a "day of jubilation" and led four days of government-organized rallies, marches and ceremonies.
"It was a dark night smelling of gunpowder and lead," Chavez, who wore a dark suit instead of military fatigues, said in a homage to those killed during the uprising led by him.
"And here we are today, 10 years later, in the midst of a full-scale revolution, well on the way toward definitively restoring social justice for the people," he added.
But opponents, who have challenged his 3-year-old rule with a widely-supported work stoppage and street protests in recent months, said the date was a black day for Venezuelan democracy and should be mourned, not celebrated.
They accuse the left-wing populist president of trying to impose a Cuban-style regime in the world's No. 4 oil exporter.
Many analysts fear the escalating political confrontation could turn more violent and some even predict Chavez may be forced out of power, either through a constitutional challenge or a military coup, before the end of this year.
In wealthy eastern neighborhoods of Caracas, a sprawling city where posh high-rise apartments and offices rub shoulders with hillsides of poor slums, many citizens wore black clothes and trailed black flags from cars to protest the anniversary.
But Chavez supporters wearing red berets and banners patrolled the streets near the Miraflores palace and Fuerte Tiuna military complex as the president recalled with open pride and nostalgia his failed coup attempt 10 years earlier.
CHAVEZ SAYS OPPOSITION WILL NOT SHIFT HIM
As part of the celebrations, the tough-talking president signed into law a decree giving property titles to the hundreds of thousands of slum-dwellers whose precarious ramshackle brick homes and wooden shacks carpet the hills surrounding the city.
Chavez scoffed at his opponents, who have accused him of frightening off capital and investment and fomenting social conflict with his aggressive public diatribes against critics in the media, the Catholic Church and private business groups.***
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez speaks with supporters during a ceremony giving land titles to farmers in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2003. Chavez celebrated the 11th anniversary of a 1992 coup attempt that launched his political career while opposition leaders trying to oust him mourned those killed in the botched putsch. (AP Photo/Juan Carlos Solorzano, Miraflores, HO)
Opposition leaders say they've gathered more than 4 million voters' signatures in a petition effort. Only 1.8 million signatures would be needed under Venezuela's constitution to hold an election before Chavez's six-year term expires. To Chavez, though, popular petitions aren't democracy in action. He labels the opposition "coup-plotters, fascists and
terrorists." Meanwhile, Chavez calls the rise of left-leaning elected leaders in Brazil and Ecuador, along with Cuba's Fidel Castro and Chavez, "the axis of good."
Humility is not a Chavez trait. Nor is compromise. Chavez struts like the king gallito -- the toughest rooster in this cockfight over Venezuela's future, seasoned by years of plotting and training to get to the top. He's not about to give up his spurs now.
His opponents are united by their visceral dislike of Chavez's leftist policies. Yet not one of them -- in the business world, in the 1-million-plus workers' labor movement, in the ranks of educators or church leaders or opposition politicians -- has risen as The One to unite all the country and serve as the anti-Chavez.
Ah, the curse of Latin America's politics of personality.
The populist Chavez, vowing to crusade against government corruption, entered the Miraflores Palace four years ago with the kind of mandate that many elected presidents would envy. Chavez managed not only to get re-elected two years later but orchestrated a power grab to change his nation's constitution to serve a six-year term.
Four years, and corruption has not gone away. Nor have Chavez's policies helped the poor. Indeed, there are 2 million more poor people than four years ago. His move to radicalize education by forcing students to tell their teachers if their families and friends support Chavez smacks of totalitarian bullying. His push to put his own political henchmen in charge of the nation's oil industry and his use of Bolivarian Circles -- often armed mobs of trained Chavez supporters who beat up protesters -- has poisoned people who once saw Chavez as a democratic savior.***