CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez scoffed on Wednesday at U.S. magazine Newsweek’s predictions that he would be toppled by a military coup and his Cuban mentor Fidel Castro would die in 2010.
In a lengthy televised New Year’s address, Chavez, who has taken Castro’s position as Latin America’s leading critic of U.S. power, described Newsweek as “the empire’s magazine.”
“They feed on hatred and the wishes of the imperialism that they represent — big money, big newspapers, the TV stations of the global bourgeoisie,” he said.
In a list of 10 predictions for the world next year, Newsweek foresaw in Venezuela a year of soaring inflation, power blackouts, food shortages, spiraling crime and tumbling popularity for Chavez, with the mood on the street turning “mean” even among the poor who put him in power.
“The military steps in to depose Chavez and restore order, as 21st-century socialism spins toward the familiar 20th-century tableau of scarcity, poverty, and chaos,” it said in a year-end edition.
The fiery Chavez, who has been in power for a decade, said the only way there would be an uprising against him would be if the internal opposition brought an army from abroad.
“Our counter-attack would be tough, I warn them,” he said, drawing applause from an audience of ministers and supporters.
Newsweek also forecast the death of Castro, 83, next year.
“Fidel Castro has been ailing for years, and 2010 looks to be his last year on earth,” it said.
Chavez, who seldom gives a speech without sending a greeting or “Viva!” to the former Cuban leader, said Newsweek’s was the latest of many false predictions of Castro’s demise.
“They’ve been announcing for it for many years,” he said, adding he recently saw Castro demonstrate his good health by talking for more than five hours.
Chavez said he joked to his brother and Cuban President Raul Castro about it. “I told Raul, ‘this guy’s going to bury you, me and all of us’.”
Chavez was in a buoyant mood despite news this week that Venezuela’s economy had shrunk an estimated 2.9 percent in 2009 — its first contraction in five years.
Critics say that is evidence of the failure of his decade-long experiment in “21st century socialism”, but Chavez blames OPEC-mandated oil output cuts and the global crisis.
Either way, Venezuela has hit the recessionary cycle after most other nations.
Rallying supporters for a political battle in 2010, Chavez called for “patriotic passion” to resist an opposition attempt to quash his majority in the National Assembly legislature at an election scheduled for September.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman