June 8, 2008 / 8:11 PM / 11 years ago

Chavez reverses course on citizen spying rules

File photo shows Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez talking to foreign media at Miraflores Palace in Caracas May 15, 2008. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he would scrap new rules that oblige citizens to spy on each other, backing down after an outcry from the opposition, rights groups and the Roman Catholic Church.

“Nobody can oblige me to turn into a snitch — nobody,” Chavez said on his Sunday TV show. “To err is human. We made a mistake and we have to correct the law ... We will never trample on the rights of Venezuelans — no matter what their politics — never.”

An intelligence law decreed last month fueled criticism that Chavez — who calls ex-Cuban President leader Fidel Castro his mentor — wants to imitate the communist island’s political system in Venezuela.

The former paratrooper, who says he is preparing Venezuela against a possible U.S. invasion, responded with a promise to issue a new decree.

At times, Chavez has pushed forward with widely unpopular measures, such as when he shut down the last national TV network critical of his policies last year. In December, he also lost a referendum aimed at extending his powers and turning the OPEC nation into a socialist state.

But the president, who has been in office since 1999, has also shown he can heed criticism. Several times he has started reform the education system, only to give up in the face of objections he was imposing his politics on children.

Reporting by Saul Hudson; Editing by Eric Walsh

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