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Chavez Threatens to Seize Banks, Companies That Finance Unrest

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that he may decree the seizure of banks and companies financing any attempt by the opposition to foment unrest during this year’s elections.

Chavez, speaking yesterday during a nationwide broadcast on television and radio after returning from Cuba on March 28 following radiation therapy, said that the government will act “firmly” against any opposition attempt to violate the constitution. His opponents, headed by candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, may attempt to disregard the election results, he said.

“I have a list of private banks that are financing the opposition’s destabilizing plans,” Chavez, 57, said. “It wouldn’t be bad at all to issue a decree and bring those firms under state control. Large national and some international companies that earn more than enough money here.”

Chavez, who is battling an undisclosed cancer that has prompted him to shuttle between Cuba and Caracas for treatment and to undergo three operations since June, said that opinion polls show he enjoys “a significant advantage” in the contest and that the opposition, along with international allies, will try to provoke the armed forces and his followers.

The self-declared socialist revolutionary said that he plans to return to Cuba tomorrow to continue with his radiation therapy.

Polls have shown a large discrepancy between voter preference for Chavez and Capriles, with results ranging from a statistical tie to a 30 percentage point lead by the president with about six months before the elections. Chavez seeks to extend his 13-year rule until 2019.

Past Seizures

Chavez, who didn’t name any banks or companies, has seized billions of dollars in assets from foreign firms since 2006 as part of his plan to install a socialist state in Venezuela and bring the economy under government control.

As a result, the government faces about 20 arbitration cases after failing to reach compensation agreements with firms including Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and Owens-Illinois Inc.

Chavez said his government won’t accept “acts of violence” like in 2002 and 2003 when he was briefly overthrown in a coup and he resisted a 2-month general strike that paralyzed oil production and the economy.

Chavez said he expects the opposition to say there was fraud during the elections. He said the U.S., which he calls “the empire,” would back his foes.

“I’m making a list of actions for my government to take in the event that we see other episodes of violence,” Chavez said. “If they dare to try something, they’ll regret it for the rest of their lives.”

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