Associated Press
Tue, July 06, 2004
Venezuela Grants Citizenship to 216,000

Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuela has granted citizenship to 216,000 immigrants since May under a fast-track nationalization plan, President Hugo Chavez announced Tuesday.

Critics say Chavez's government is using rapid nationalization to win votes ahead of an Aug. 15 presidential recall referendum.

Chavez made the announcement during a citizenship swearing-in ceremony at a stadium in the western city of San Cristobal. Thousands of new Venezuelans cheered, many of them wearing the leftist government's trademark red shirts and berets.

"We consider you to be the same as our own children," Chavez said. He said his government hopes to grant citizenship to a total of 1 million people by year's end.

Oil-rich Venezuela has about 24 million people.

Chavez has portrayed the Aug. 15 recall referendum as an effort by a disenfranchised and corrupt Venezuelan elite, backed by Washington, to end his revolution for Venezuela's majority poor.

Opponents want to stop what they call an increasingly authoritarian government that is deepening ties with communist Cuba and alienating Washington, a traditionally close trade partner.