Chavez Draws Fire with Jesus, Socialist Reference

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez lifted up Jesus Christ and Castro as his socialist models, prompting some to question his understanding of Christianity.

“Christ taught that justice is rooted in respect for one's neighbor and that the promotion of equity is for the common good,” said the Rev. Dr. Keith Roderick, Christian Solidarity International’s Washington representative, on Friday.

“By shutting down opposition television stations, enacting revolutionary laws by presidential decree and threatening leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, it is quite obvious that President Chavez is more a student of Castro than Christ.”

Chavez began his third term Wednesday by declaring socialism, not capitalism, is the only way forward for Venezuela and the world, The Associated Press reported.

The controversial leader, who just won with a 63 percent vote, will push for more socialist changes in his country including nationalizing electrical and telecommunications companies, and asking the National Assembly, controlled by his supporters, to permit him to enact “revolutionary laws” by presidential decree.

During his speech, Chavez referenced Jesus when he said, “I swear by Christ – the greatest socialist in history.”

“He cannot undermine individual freedom, appropriate power to himself, and still realize the just society that Christ calls us to form,” remarked Roderick.

Chavez stated that the goal of his term, which will last at least until 2013, will be “to build Venezuelan socialism.”

The socialist enthusiast has had a tense relationship with the Christian community and Catholic Church.

In 2005, Chavez had ordered New Tribes Mission to evacuate from post serving remote tribes in Venezuela. NTM, which has done mission work in the country for 60 years, was forced to pullout in February 2006.

Chavez had accused the mission group of spying for foreign mining and pharmaceutical interests and collaborating with the CIA.

Thousands of Venezuela’s tribal people had rallied in support of the mission group, opposing the government’s decision.

More recently, Roman Catholic Church leaders have criticized Chavez’s decision to not renew the license of an opposing television station. Chavez accused the station of subversive activities aimed at ousting him, according to AP.

"Mr. Cardinal," Chavez said, "the state respects the church. The church should respect the state. I wouldn't like to return to the times of confrontation with Venezuelan bishops, but it's not up to me. It's up to the Venezuelan bishops."

Chavez has proposed a change to the constitution to allow “indefinite re-election,” allowing him to run again in 2012.