Former coup leader promises a Venezuela 'for the people'
Web posted at: 9:32 p.m. EST (0232 GMT)
CARACAS, Venezuela (CNN) -- Having won through the ballot box what he once sought through force, Venezuela's president-elect, Hugo Chavez, is promising to change a system that has widened the gap between rich and poor.
Chavez, a former army paratrooper who led a failed coup in 1992, vowed Monday to reform the government and hold a referendum on rewriting the constitution.
"I am a man of the people," he said in his victory speech. "I will fight for the people, and mine will be a government of the people."
Chavez also promised to root out corruption, cut government spending and try to raise Venezuela's minimum wage, which currently stands at $175 a month.
"In truth, I am not Chavez. Chavez is a national feeling. Chavez is a project," he said, frequently citing dictums from historic independence leader Simon Bolivar.
Widespread discontent with the economy along with accusations that the government had squandered the world's largest oil reserves outside the Middle East fueled Chavez's overwhelming victory on Sunday.
Latin American leaders, from Cuba to Argentina, congratulated the incoming president. The United States said it expects to continue good relations with Venezuela, even though it denied a visa to Chavez two years ago because of his coup attempt.
Chavez said he expects any tensions with the United States to have subsided by the time he takes office February 2.
Chavez met with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in Caracas on Monday to explain his reform plans. Carter urged Venezuelans to be patient.
"There is a lot of good will here. There is a lot of anticipation and hope," he said. "The thing that happens quite often is that when democratic changes are made, the immediate expectations of the people cannot possibly be met."
A formidable figure
Former Venezuelan leaders, along with analysts and journalists, called for caution.
"Mr. Chavez has fed off the people's rage, and it is dangerous to perceive him as a vindicator rather than as a president," said former President Carlos Andres Perez, the man Chavez tried to overthrow.
Chavez has denied he plans to establish a dictatorship and has sought to assure business circles he will not destroy the economy.
But some observers believe he will stop privatizing some key industries and impose price and currency controls.
Chavez already has vowed to dismiss the head of the state oil company and use oil money to help the poor.
"Petroleum in Venezuela has been converted (to) a state within a state," he said. "That will end under my government. Venezuela's petroleum should be in service of national projects."
But many Venezuelans are not convinced Chavez will improve their lives.
"He said nothing new about his economic policies. There is still uncertainty," said stockbroker Francisco Acosta. "People are calm, but it is a nervous calm."
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