Caracas: Addressing tens of thousands of red-clad workers at a May Day march on Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez set a goal to create more than 3 million jobs in eight years and end unemployment in the OPEC nation.
Chavez arrived at the rally waving a Venezuelan flag from an open-topped truck that made its way through one of the largest crowds seen on the streets of Venezuela in recent years.
"I am absolutely sure we will incorporate 3.5 million jobs in the next eight years," Chavez told the workers, who traveled on buses to Caracas from across the vast country.
The strong turnout reflected a mood of optimism among Chavez supporters as money from higher oil prices helps an economic recovery after two years of recession, lifting both the president`s popularity and confidence he can fight off opposition challengers in next year`s presidential election.
"I have a year and a half more in this government, then six more in the next one," Chavez said with a grin.
Chavez has missed many targets he has set himself during 12 years in office, but his promises still resonate with large parts of the Venezuelan population whose standard of living has improved as he spends oil income on social projects.
"With Chavez things have got better bit by bit," said metro train worker Franklin Ciro, 31, at the rally. "There is no other candidate as strong as him."
Last week he ordered large rises to the minimum wage and for public workers, partially offsetting inflation of 27 percent in 2010.
A former soldier inspired by Cuban communism, Chavez changed the constitution in 2009 to allow him to stand for at least one more six-year term which he says is needed to rid Venezuela of capitalism.
He has nationalized industries including oil projects and steel and cement factories, almost doubling the state payroll in a decade to more than 2 million workers. Some economists warn the government`s increasing overheads and a weak private sector make it too reliant on high oil prices.
To achieve the goal of zero unemployment, the president said, he would launch a plan in the next few months aimed at training the unemployed to work in construction and agriculture.
Chavez`s greatest electoral victories have come at times of rising prosperity and he appears to be gambling government spending and investment in new oil fields will drive economic growth before the elections.
He said 100,000 jobs will be created by new projects being developed with consortiums of foreign companies including Chevron in the Orinoco belt, which contains some of the world`s largest crude oil reserves.
Unemployment has been relatively stable during the recession thanks to strict labor laws and the large public sector. In March 8.6 percent of the economically active population was without work. The situation is worse for the young, with one in five people between the ages of 15 and 24 without employment, official statistics say.