(CNN) -- Venezuela will nationalize the exploration and mining of gold and recall $11 billion in gold reserves from foreign banks, President Hugo Chavez said Wednesday.
"We are going to start bringing the gold to our national bank," Chavez said in a conference call with several of the nation's financial leaders broadcast on state television.
He added that Venezuela should diversify its investments, placing more of its reserves in countries such as Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa.
"The time has come. The economies of Europe and the United States are sinking. Now we must see that the economies of China, Russia and Brazil are more solid," he said.
Venezuelan leaders did not specify when they would begin bringing back gold reserves.
"'We want to protect our assets that belong to the Venezuelan people," said Nelson Merentes, president of Central Bank of Venezuela, according to the state-run AVN news agency. "We are going to do it gradually, using a technique used worldwide to bring the gold, because they are physical bars that were deposited and we must certify that they are the same ones."
Chavez detailed the gold reserves plan hours after announcing that he planned to issue a decree that will permit the takeover of a gold-rich area in southern Venezuela, according to AVN.
Chavez said that the nationalization was necessary "because in that area there is anarchy, there are mafias, smugglers."
Venezuela has as much as $12 billion in gold reserves, Chavez said, and "we cannot permit them to keep taking that from us."
The Venezuelan leader said the moves would bring more money and stability to Venezuela.
But at least one critic argued that Chavez was acting in his own self interest and placing the nation's resources at risk.
Roger Noriega, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, urged Venezuelans to rally "to oppose the looting of the nation's savings" in a blog post on the website of the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank.
Chavez and other leaders "are more concerned with their own fate than for the well-being of the Venezuelan people," he wrote.