President Hugo Chavez said Sunday that he has no intention of ceasing his efforts to make Venezuela a socialist country, and he expressed confidence that his allies would take the reins of his "Bolivarian Revolution" if he died or decided to step down.
"There's no end here, this is going to continue," said Chavez, referring to the political movement he named after 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar.
Chavez, a former paratroop commander who was first elected in 1998, said his close confidants would undoubtedly assume power and continue his efforts to steer the South American country toward socialism if he were to die or retire from politics.
"I don't fear death," Chavez said during an interview broadcast on the local Televen television channel, adding that he believed a younger generation of revolutionary-minded allies would persevere in Venezuela's ongoing political tug-of-war.
Critics ranging from opposition leaders to representatives of the Roman Catholic Church claim Chavez has become increasingly authoritarian and poses a threat to Venezuela's democracy by aspiring to cling to power for decades to come.
Chavez scoffed at such suggestions Sunday, saying that some of his most outspoken critics have unfairly compared him to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down and turned over the government to the Egyptian military last week.
"I laugh when some sagacious analysts from Venezuela's opposition compare my government with that of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. That was a dictatorship," he said.
Chavez vowed to win Venezuela's next presidential election in 2012.
"If they don't kill me or if some kind of catastrophe does not occur, I'm sure _ there will be much work to be done _ that I'll be re-elected for six more years," he said.
Opposition lawmaker Alfredo Ramos said that a coalition of opposition parties has decided to choose a contender for next year's vote through a primary, which will be held at the end of this year or in early 2012.
"I don't have the slightest doubt that Hugo Chavez will be defeated in 2012 because the people, not the political parties, are going to pick a candidate," Ramos said in a telephone interview. "Chavez doesn't have a chance of winning."
Chavez remains Venezuela's most popular politician despite his administration's failure to resolve pressing problems: a severe shortage of housing for the poor, widespread violent crime, economic stagnation, and Latin America's highest inflation rate.
During Sunday's program, Chavez also raised the issue of reducing domestic gasoline consumption but he did not mention the possibility of raising the price of fuel, which is heavily subsidized in this oil-rich country.
"Our objective is the decrease of gasoline consumption to substitute it with natural gas," he said. "Venezuelan gasoline is the cheapest in the world."
A gallon of gasoline sells for approximately 8 cents in Venezuela.
Venezuelan leaders have largely avoided raising gasoline since 1989, when more than 300 people died in rioting after the government increased gasoline prices.