CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Surrounded by throngs of cheering supporters, Hugo Chavez celebrated his first anniversary Monday as president.

Thousands of Chavez supporters converged at the gates of Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, many waving Venezuelan flags and wearing Chavez's trademark red paratrooper's beret.

Chavez, a former paratrooper who staged a failed coup attempt eight years ago in the name of the poor, was elected president in a landslide on Dec. 6, 1998.

Chavez called Monday's commemoration ``the first year of the triumph of the Bolivarian revolution.''

The president often invokes South American liberation hero Simon Bolivar as a symbol of his ``social revolution,'' even asking a constitutional assembly to change the country's name from the Republic of Venezuela to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Some of the president's critics say he is capitalizing on Bolivar's memory for his own political ends.

The assembly, which is dominated by Chavez backers, recently rewrote Venezuela's 1961 constitution, and the new writ will go before voters in a national referendum on Dec. 15.

Chavez and the proposed constitution have come under intense criticism for moving Venezuela toward what his detractors say is authoritarian rule.

But Chavez contends that he and his supporters are merely wresting power from a corrupt oligarchy that brought the oil-rich South American nation to economic ruin.

``We have achieved something great by killing that snake that is corruption, which had controlled us for 40 years,'' said Iraida Rodriguez, a 44-year-old housewife who showed up at the palace to cheer on Chavez.