March 6, 2013

Hugo Chavez, fiery Venezuelan leader, dies at 58

The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez was a former paratroop commander and self-styled "subversive" who waged continual battle for his socialist ideals. He bedeviled the United States and outsmarted his rivals time and again, while using Venezuela's vast oil wealth to his political advantage.

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In this file photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez speaks with workers as he visits a truck factory in Barinas, Venezuela on Tuesday Feb. 21, 2012. Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 that Chavez has died. Chavez, 58, was first diagnosed with cancer in June 2011. (AP Photo/Leslie Mazoch)

AP

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In this undated photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Lieutenant Hugo Chavez poses for a photo at the Military Academy in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 that Chavez has died. Chavez, 58, was first diagnosed with cancer in June 2011. (AP Photo/Miraflores Press Office)

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A TURBULENT ERA

Here is a brief look at the political fortunes of Hugo Chavez:

THE REVOLUTIONARY

On Feb. 4, 1992, Army paratrooper Lt. Col. Chavez leads botched coup against President Carlos Andres Perez and faces possible 30-year prison term, but after two years in jail awaiting trial, Chavez and fellow plotters are set free by a more lenient president.

THE NEW PRESIDENT

By 1998 Chavez has worked his way into the political system and manages to win the presidential election. Promising to seek "third way" between socialism and capitalism, Chavez overwhelmingly wins support for proposal for a new constitution giving him broad power. In July of 2000, Chavez is elected to a new six-year term.

A SHORT-LIVED COUP

In April 2002, dissident generals and political opponents oust Chavez and clear the way for interim government that throws out constitution. But after extensive public protests, Chavez supporters and loyal army officers restore him to power. Many Venezeulans, however, are unhappy and business organizations, labor unions and executives from Venezuela's state-run oil company call a strike. After the strike fizzles, top executives and 18,000 workers are fired for participating in it. Chavez survives a referendum on whether he should step down.

SOCIALIST REFORMS

In 2005, Chavez targets the oil industry, dictating the sale of Venezuelan oil on preferential credit terms to more than a dozen countries. In 2007 and 2008, Chavez nationalizes or takes majority stakes in Venezuela's largest private electric company, the country's largest telecommunications company, the cement industry and the largest steel maker, and several large oil projects and banks. In 2009, Chavez, along with allies including Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia, sets up regional development lender called Bank of the South. It's billed as Latin American alternative to institutions such as International Monetary Fund.

VOTER BACKLASH

In 2009, Chavez wins voter approval to eliminate term limits, allowing him to run for re-election indefinitely; he vows to remain in power for at least another decade. But within a year, Chavez's allies lose their two-thirds majority in congressional elections that allowed them to ignore opponents in rewriting fundamental laws. His allies still retain a majority.

CANCER

In June of 2011, Chavez undergoes surgery in Cuba for pelvic abscess and there are rumors that he is severely ill. Throughout 2011 an 2012 Chavez denies he is seriously ill and on July 9, 2012 claims to be "totally free" of cancer. On Oct. 7, 2012, Chavez wins another six-year term, but announces two months later that his cancer has returned. On Dec. 11, 2012, he undergoes his fourth cancer-related operation in Cuba.

– From news service reports

Chavez led one coup attempt, defeated another and was re-elected three times. Almost the only adversary it seemed he couldn't beat was cancer. He died Tuesday in Caracas at age 58, two years after he was first diagnosed.

The son of schoolteachers, he rose from poverty in a dirt-floor, mud-walled house, a "humble soldier" in the battle for socialism. He fashioned himself after 19th-century independence leader Simon Bolivar and renamed his country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

During more than 14 years in office, his leftist politics and grandiose style polarized Venezuelans. The barrel-chested leader electrified crowds with his booming voice, and won admiration among the poor with government social programs and a folksy, nationalistic style.

Opponents seethed at the larger-than-life character who demonized them on television and ordered the expropriation of farms and businesses. Many in the middle class cringed at his bombast and complained about rising crime, soaring inflation and government economic controls.

Chavez used his country's oil wealth to launch social programs that included state-run food markets, new public housing, free health clinics and education programs. While poverty declined during his presidency amid a historic boom in oil earnings, critics said he failed to use the windfall of hundreds of billions of dollars to develop the country's economy.

Inflation soared and the homicide rate rose to among the highest in the world.

Before his struggle with cancer, the charismatic leader appeared on television almost daily, speaking for hours and breaking into song or philosophical discourse. He often wore the bright red of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or the fatigues and red beret of his army days — the same uniform he donned in 1992 while leading an ill-fated coup attempt that first landed him in jail and then launched his political career.

The rest of the world watched as the country with the world's biggest proven oil reserves took a turn to the left under its unconventional leader, who considered himself above all else a revolutionary.

"I'm still a subversive," Chavez told The Associated Press in a 2007 interview, recalling his days as a rebel soldier. "I think the entire world has to be subverted."

Chavez was a master communicator and savvy political strategist, and managed to turn his struggle against cancer into a rallying cry, until the illness finally defeated him.

From the start, he billed himself as the heir of Bolivar, who led much of South America to independence, often speaking beneath the 19th-century liberator's portrait and presenting replicas of his sword to allies. He built a soaring mausoleum in Caracas to house the remains of "El Libertador."

Chavez also was inspired by his mentor Fidel Castro and took on the Cuban leader's role as Washington's chief antagonist in the Western Hemisphere after the ailing Castro turned over the presidency to his brother Raul in 2006. Like Castro, Chavez decried U.S.-style capitalism while forming alliances throughout Latin America and with distant powers such as Russia, China and Iran.

Supporters eagerly raised Chavez to the pantheon of revolutionary legends ranging from Castro to Argentine-born rebel Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Chavez nurtured that cult of personality, and even as he stayed out of sight for long stretches during his bout with cancer, his out-sized image appeared on buildings and billboard throughout Venezuela. The airwaves boomed with his baritone mantra: "I am a nation." Supporters carried posters and wore masks of his eyes, chanting, "I am Chavez."

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Additional Photos

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In this Jan. 23, 2002 file photo, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez waves to supporters during a government march commemorating the anniversary of Venezuelan democracy in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 that Chavez has died. Chavez, 58, was first diagnosed with cancer in June 2011. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)

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In this undated photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Hugo Chavez, center, looks at the camera during a military exercise in Venezuela. Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 that Chavez has died. Chavez, 58, was first diagnosed with cancer in June 2011. (AP Photo/Miraflores Press Office)

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In this Dec. 5, 2001 file photo, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez gestures before a painting of Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar at an event at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 that Chavez has died. Chavez, 58, was first diagnosed with cancer in June 2011. (AP Photo/Leslie Mazoch, File)

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A supporter of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez cries as she holds a sign that reads in Spanish "I am Chavez" as Chavistas gather in Bolivar square to mourn Chavez's death in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced that Chavez died on Tuesday at age 58 after a nearly two-year bout with cancer. During more than 14 years in office, Chavez routinely challenged the status quo at home and internationally. He polarized Venezuelans with his confrontational and domineering style, yet was also a masterful communicator and strategist who tapped into Venezuelan nationalism to win broad support, particularly among the poor. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

  


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