Published December 30, 2009
CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is looking to 2010 facing a recession, trying to prevent widespread power outages, and warning his opponents against a coup attempt.
Chavez said in a televised speech Wednesday that any action like the failed military rebellion against him in 2002 wouldn't have a chance.
"If something like that occurs to you, our counterattack is going to be firm. I'm warning you," Chavez said.
The leftist leader, who has consolidated power in the years since the short-lived 2002 coup, said if opponents wanted to try again "they'd have to import an armed force."
"Newsweek magazine takes the liberty of predicting and saying that 2010 will be Fidel Castro's last year on Earth. Well, could it be that he's going to the moon?" Chavez said with a chuckle, dismissing both predictions as the wishes of those who prepared the list.
He also repeated his near constant theme that Venezuela is facing threats from the U.S. and neighboring Colombia, and repeated his accusation that U.S. military planes are using the nearby Dutch islands of Aruba and Curacao as hubs for intelligence operations.
The Dutch government has rejected those accusations, saying U.S. soldiers do use civilian air fields on Curacao and Aruba but only for anti-drug trafficking efforts. Colombian and U.S. officials have denied their militaries pose a threat to Venezuela.
As for President Barack Obama, Chavez said: "This year we've witnessed the falling apart of Obama. Obama fell to pieces. Well, there wasn't much hope really."
Chavez also said that he views Colombia as a "high risk" issue in the coming year. He has warned of a possible armed conflict if U.S. troops use military bases in Colombia against Venezuela.
Domestically, Chavez is facing one of his most difficult periods in years.
Venezuela's economy shrank 2.9 percent in 2009 as the dominant oil industry suffered a downturn, pulling the country into a recession for the first time since 2003. Inflation is running at about 27 percent.
Chavez said the economy has held up well considering the global economic crisis, and he noted that oil prices have been climbing — edging above $79 a barrel Wednesday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Venezuela relies heavily on oil sales, which account for about 94 percent of its export earnings. Despite Chavez's testy relations with Washington, the United States remains the top buyer of Venezuelan oil.
Shortages of water and electricity are also emerging as a potential political problem for Chavez.
A prolonged drought in parts of South America has severely drained hydroelectric dams that supply most of Venezuela's power, and the government has begun rationing measures like limiting the hours of shopping malls and charging some electricity customers more if they don't reduce usage.
"It's a serious problem, serious. But we're facing it," Chavez said.
He said the government has shut down portions of its aluminum and steel plants in eastern Venezuela to reduce their burden on the electrical grid.