Caracas: After 12 years as president, Hugo Chavez asked Venezuelans on Wednesday to forgive his mistakes, eyeing a re-election race next year that he said was shaping up to be rough.
The race is likely to be more challenging than some the leftist-populist Chavez has faced in the past: he no longer has a lock on the legislature, and staggering violent crime rates have Venezuelans jittery.
"Twelve years on, I ask forgiveness for my mistakes," the ex-paratrooper said in an address on state television and radio.
"But, I think that beyond my mistakes and errors, in these 12 years my comrades, with me in the lead, we have taken responsibility for a certain brand of hope that I want us to renew today," Chavez said. "So let`s renew everything so that we can keep making progress down the path the people have put us on."
Chavez, a harsh critic of the United States and staunch ally of communist Cuba, insisted he was sure he would win a new term in 2012, even though he said the race "already has begun, and is going to be a tough one and a good one”.
He also scoffed at critics portrayals of what they see as him digging in to unduly extend his time in power.
"I have read a lot of news stories saying that Chavez has been in power 12 years and is trying to cling to power. But let`s keep something in mind: there have been elections here. We have won them, over and over, with complete transparency," Chavez claimed.
Thanks to a constitutional amendment passed during his time in office, in 2009, Venezuela now allows unlimited re-election for all public offices.
Looking back at more than a decade in power, Chavez hailed a massive literacy campaign and improving nutrition for the poor as key achievements; he said his current challenges were reducing violent crime and providing every Venezuelan a home.
Venezuela, with almost 30 million people, had a staggering 17,600 murders last year.