IMAGE: Hugo Chavez
Handout  /  AFP - Getty Images
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez shows, during his TV program "Alo Presidente" on Aug. 27, the two versions of the Venezuelan Constitution, the present one, in blue, passed in 1999, and the new one, in red, to be approved by Congress and through a referendum.
updated 9/2/2007 10:03:23 PM ET 2007-09-03T02:03:23

President Hugo Chavez said Sunday he could continue governing until 2027 if voters do away with re-election limits because he needs more time in office to establish a socialist economic model in Venezuela.

He has previously said he could stay on as president until 2021 if his proposed constitutional reforms -- which among other changes would eliminate presidential term limits, letting him run as many more times as he wants -- are approved.

Government opponents have attacked the reforms, accusing Chavez of seeking to stay in power for decades like his close friend Fidel Castro of Cuba. Chavez denies the charges and says a new constitution is necessary to move Venezuela toward socialism and help the country's poor.

"I need more time in the presidency to finish this. We are only beginning," he said on his weekly radio and television program, "Maybe until 2020 or 2027. I'd be old if I'm still alive."

His proposals would also extend presidential terms from six to seven years, and empower neighborhood-based assemblies called "communal councils."

The reforms were initially approved last week by the National Assembly. Final approval is expected within two or three months, and the changes will then be submitted to voters in a referendum.

In typical style, Chavez spoke for several hours on subjects ranging from Mayan theology to U.S. "imperialism" to advice he received in a recent letter from Castro.

"Don't worry about that solitary gray hair in your black hair," Castro wrote, according to Chavez. "My problem is finding a black one in my white hair."

Though much remains unknown about Castro's health, Chavez has frequently offered general updates since Cuba's 81-year-old leader announced more than a year ago that he had undergone intestinal surgery and was provisionally ceding power to his younger brother Raul.

Chavez also said he hopes to meet soon with representatives of Colombia's largest rebel group -- the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC -- for talks aimed at exchanging dozens of guerrilla-held hostages, including politician Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. defense contractors, for imprisoned guerrillas.

"We will a find a solution for the humanitarian exchange," he said, "and hopefully we will also find a historic peace agreement."

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and FARC leaders have agreed to allow Chavez to mediate talks.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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