CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez vowed to “radicalize” his socialist revolution even further after legislative elections that gave the opposition one of its strongest showings during his more than 11 years in power.
He started on Sunday by announcing the expropriation of land owned by the Venezuelan agricultural company Agroislena and vowing to hasten the nationalization of land held by the British meat products company Vestey Foods Group.
Chavez’s ruling Socialist Party won last weekend’s vote by a slim margin, taking 5.45 million votes or 48.9 percent compared with 5.33 million votes or 47.9 percent for the newly united Democratic Unity umbrella group.
The result lifted the optimism of the opposition, which now sees a chance to unseat Chavez in 2012 presidential elections.
Investors and analysts are waiting to see the reaction of a man who has in the past come out of elections by nationalizing swathes of industry, including millions of acres of agricultural land, and attacking private capital.
“We are going to continue forward, democratically radicalizing the socialist revolution because it is necessary,” Chavez said late on Saturday to a television audience.
He dismissed the opposition celebration of a moral victory as “15 minutes of drunkenness.”
Despite their thin overall vote advantage, the Socialists took a healthy majority in the National Assembly — 97 seats compared to 65 for Democratic Unity. But the ruling party fell short of the two-thirds needed to pass major legislation and make appointments to key bodies such as the Supreme Court.
Chavez rejected the idea of seeking to mend relations with private enterprise, announcing the nationalization of 250,000 hectares (618,000 acres) this month and saying, “There will be no deal with the bourgeoisie.”
Chavez repeatedly targeted the latifundia, or large landowners, during his regular Sunday television show “Alo Presidente,” saying Agroislena was now public property.
He also referred to Compania Inglesa, a Venezuelan unit of Vestey, a multinational held for four generations by Britain’s Vestey family.
“All of the lands of the so-called Compania Inglesa will be nationalized now. I don’t want to lose another day,” Chavez said from the agricultural state of Guarico.
Chavez had announced in August that Venezuela would buy a group of large farms and thousands of cattle from Vestey, which had four farms taken over in 2005.
Venezuela-watchers had wondered what areas of the private sector Chavez might target next, with most speculation concentrated on greater control of the health, food, agricultural or banking sectors.
The election results came as Venezuela’s oil-rich economy continues to shrink while most others in Latin American have been recovering from the global economic crisis of 2008 and 2009. Inflation is running at nearly 30 percent annually.
Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Cynthia Osterman