Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez is seen as he arrives for his welcoming ceremony for in Tehran, Iran on October 19, 2010. UPI/Maryam Rahmanian | License Photo
CARACAS, Venezuela, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, beset by problems of economic slowdown for the second consecutive year, announced he would fight on and seek re-election next year for a third six-year term.
Chavez suffered setbacks in last year's National Assembly elections that depleted his comfortable majority but, as widely anticipated, he reacted by hinting he wouldn't hesitate to issue a presidential decree if and when he faced opposition on a particular issue.
With most of Venezuelan media muted after a series of state takeovers or restrictive regulations, Chavez still faces opposition charges his administration is mismanaging the economy, giving the oil-rich country the second year of statistics showing a shrinking economy.
Central Bank President Nelson Merentes said last year that he expected Venezuela's economy to show growth in the last quarter of 2010 after a 3.3 percent contraction in all of 2009.
Despite those odds, Chavez maintains significant approval ratings among the majority of the country's 30 million people mainly in response to his populist policies.
In a radio and television broadcast marking his 12 years in office, Chavez asked for forgiveness for "mistakes" during his rule and reminded the nation that much more needs to be done to reach the goals of his Bolivarian socialist revolution.
Coinciding with Chavez's anniversary celebrations was a government announcement that Venezuela rates itself as the country with the largest hydrocarbon reserves, surpassing those held by Saudi Arabia.
He said the anniversary of his rule called for a renewal of hope that his administration had provided despite the difficulties of the past years, including a confrontation with Colombia and continuing diplomatic rows with the United States.
Before his election setbacks in 2010, Chavez pushed through a constitutional amendment that allows re-election to unlimited terms for public officials.
Chavez said, "beyond my mistakes and errors, in these 12 years, my comrades, with me in the lead, we have taken responsibility for a certain brand of hope that I want us to renew today," Chavez said. "So let's renew everything so that we can keep making progress down the path the people have put us on."
Chavez said he was sure he would win a new term in 2012, even though he said the race "already has begun, and is going to be a tough one and a good one."
He cited media criticism of his rule and his intention to run for office again, including "a lot of news stories saying that Chavez has been in power 12 years and is trying to cling to power.
"But let's keep something in mind," Chavez said. "There have been elections here. We have won them, over and over, with complete transparency."
He also cited among his successes a mass literacy campaign and improved nutrition for the poor as part of a poverty reduction program. His remaining major challenges, Chavez said, were reducing violent crime and providing every Venezuelan a home.
Venezuela had 17,600 murders in 2010 and a record 30 percent inflation that prevented affected Venezuelans' quest for home ownership or better accommodation.
The government has based much of its development spending on oil prices staying at current levels.
Energy and Petroleum Minister Rafael Ramirez said despite 100 years of production Venezuela holds 297 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, most of it in tar sands but sufficient to be ahead of Saudi Arabia.
"At the end of 2010, we had a level of 217 billion barrels of oil and now, at the start of this year, we are in a position to certify 297 billion barrels," Ramirez said.
The country exports more than 2.3 million barrels per day and is self-sufficient in domestic consumption of more than 560,000 bpd. Energy production and distribution has gone through upheavals because of summary dismissals of skilled personnel after state takeover of the country's hydrocarbons industry units.