Venezuela's Chavez Celebrates Six Years in Office

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (search) pledged to deepen his "revolution" for the poor Wednesday as he marked his government's sixth anniversary, saying he intends to win another six-year stint next year.

Fireworks burst in the air over the Miraflores palace (search), where Chavez emerged on a small balcony to address more than 2,000 supporters.

"We still have a long road ahead," Chavez told the crowd. "God willing, six years more!"

Chavez was inaugurated on Feb. 2, 1999. He swiftly oversaw the drafting of a new constitution that called for elections in 2000, and won a six-year term. Ahead of next year's elections, Chavez has pledged a new push to fight poverty and expand social programs.

"One day we will no longer speak of class here," Chavez said, blaming accumulated poverty on "a century of exploitation, of hegemony, imperialism."

In his six years, Chavez has survived a short-lived coup in 2002, a two-month strike in 2003 and recall referendum last August.

Critics argue his policies have done little to improve the lives of the 25 million Venezuelans, most of whom live in poverty despite the country's oil wealth.

"Venezuelan society has become poorer and, in addition, divided," said Anibal Romero, a political science professor at Simon Bolivar University (search).

But Chavez's allies say opponents need only look more closely at new social programs to see benefits. They cite literacy programs, state-run markets, training programs and an initiative that has Cuban doctors treating the poor.

Relations with the United States have remained tense. Chavez regularly criticizes "U.S. imperialism" and declared Wednesday: "We say 'no' to imperialism."

U.S. officials have expressed concern over Chavez's close friendship to Cuba's Fidel Castro (search) and allegations that his government has given safe haven to Colombian rebels.