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Page last updated at 09:25 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Venezuela marks decade of Chavez

Hugo Chavez (centre) joined by leaders from   Honduras, Ecuador, Nicaragu and Bolivia among others
President Chavez declared Monday a national holiday

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has celebrated 10 years in power, telling supporters a new era is under way in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The past decade could be summed up as "revolution, independence and socialism," President Chavez said.

Joining him at the Caracas rally were several Latin American leaders.

The celebrations come as Mr Chavez campaigns ahead of a referendum on amending the constitution to lift term limits on elected officials.

Monday, 10 years to the day since Mr Chavez was sworn in for his first term, was declared a national holiday.

Thousands of loyal Chavez supporters turned out to cheer the motorcade and hear the speeches by the assembled left-wing leaders from across Latin America.

Among the foreign politicians attending the events were the Bolivian, Nicaraguan, and Honduran presidents.

Mr Chavez said there had been radical changes since he came to power.

"If one were to compare what Venezuela was 10 years ago with what it is today, you would see that huge changes have begun. Latin America is drawing up a new economic and geopolitical map," he said.

The opposition would agree that there have been significant changes in Venezuela over the past decade but not for the better, reports the BBC's Will Grant in Caracas.

They say the government has become increasingly autocratic and accuse Mr Chavez of failing to deal with the sharp rise in violent crime or tackle the country's rampant inflation - the highest in Latin America.

Oil wealth

During his turbulent decade in power, the president has been helped by high oil prices which have enabled him to fund social programmes both in Venezuela and around the world.

Even some of Mr Chavez' fiercest critics accept that poverty in Venezuela has fallen significantly since he came to power.

However, they argue that the measures to help the poor are built on the back of high oil prices, and are not sustainable, BBC Latin America analyst James Painter says.

The Venezuelan economy relies on oil for more than 90% of its exports and more than half of its income - but the price of oil has dropped from $140 a barrel last July to about $40 now.

Additionally, the opposition to the government, which has often been weak and divided, is starting to look like a more serious threat, our analyst says.

Student groups and opposition parties have been campaigning against a proposed change to the constitution which would allow elected officials, including the president, to seek indefinite re-election.

Mr Chavez, who in 2007 lost the vote on a similar proposed change, says he is confident of winning this time round.

The question will be answered soon, with the referendum due to take place on 15 February.

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