Venezuela's Hugo Chavez dies at 58

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CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez, the fiery populist who declared a socialist revolution in Venezuela, crusaded against U.S. influence and championed a leftist revival across Latin America, died Tuesday at age 58 after a nearly two-year bout with cancer.

Hugo Chavez  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Hugo Chavez

Vice President Nicolas Maduro, surrounded by other government officials, announced the death in a national television broadcast. He said Chavez died at 4:25 p.m. local time.

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.

Chavez repeatedly proved himself a political survivor. As an army paratroop commander, he led a failed coup in 1992, then was pardoned and elected president in 1998. He survived a coup against his own presidency in 2002 and won re-election two more times.

The burly president electrified crowds with his booming voice, often wearing the bright red of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela or the fatigues and red beret of his army days. Before his struggle with cancer, he appeared on television almost daily, talking for hours at a time and often breaking into song of philosophical discourse.

Chavez used his country’s vast oil wealth to launch social programs that include state-run food markets, new public housing, free health clinics and education programs. Poverty declined during Chavez’s presidency amid a historic boom in oil earnings, but 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.

Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba in June 2011 to remove what he said was a baseball-size tumor from his pelvic region, and the cancer returned repeatedly over the next 18 months despite more surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He kept secret key details of his illness, including the type of cancer and the precise location of the tumors.

“El Comandante,” as he was known, stayed in touch with the Venezuelan people during his treatment via Twitter and phone calls broadcast on television, but even those messages dropped off as his health deteriorated.

Two months after his last re-election in October, Chavez returned to Cuba again for cancer surgery, blowing a kiss to his country as he boarded the plane. He was never seen again in public.

After a 10-week absence marked by opposition protests over the lack of information about the president’s health and growing unease among the president’s “Chavista” supporters, the government released photographs of Chavez on Feb. 15 and three days later announced that the president had returned to Venezuela to be treated at a military hospital in Caracas.

Throughout his presidency, Chavez said he hoped to fulfill Bolivar’s unrealized dream of uniting South America.

He was also inspired by Cuban leader Fidel Castro and took on the aging revolutionary’s role as Washington’s chief antagonist in the Western Hemisphere after Castro relinquished the presidency to his brother Raul in 2006.

Supporters saw Chavez as the latest in a colorful line of revolutionary legends, from Castro to Argentine-born Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Chavez nurtured that cult of personality, and even as he stayed out of sight for long stretches fighting 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.”

Chavez saw himself as a revolutionary and savior of the poor.

“A revolution has arrived here,” he declared in a 2009 speech. “No one can stop this revolution.”

Chavez’s social programs won him enduring support: Poverty rates declined from 50 percent at the beginning of his term in 1999 to 32 percent in the second half of 2011. But he also charmed his audience with sheer charisma and a flair for drama that played well for the cameras.

He ordered the sword of South American independence leader Simon Bolivar removed from Argentina’s Central Bank to unsheathe at key moments. On television, he would lambast his opponents as “oligarchs,” announce expropriations of companies and lecture Venezuelans about the glories of socialism. His performances included renditions of folk songs and impromptu odes to Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong and 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Chavez carried his in-your-face style to the world stage as well. In a 2006 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, he called President George W. Bush the devil, saying the podium reeked of sulfur after Bush’s address.

Critics saw Chavez as a typical Latin American caudillo, a strongman who ruled through force of personality and showed disdain for democratic rules. Chavez concentrated power in his hands with allies who dominated the congress and justices who controlled the Supreme Court.

He insisted all the while that Venezuela remained a vibrant democracy and denied trying to restrict free speech. But some opponents faced criminal charges and were driven into exile.

While Chavez trumpeted plans for communes and an egalitarian society, his soaring rhetoric regularly conflicted with reality. Despite government seizures of companies and farmland, the balance between Venezuela’s public and private sectors changed little during his presidency.

And even as the poor saw their incomes rise, those gains were blunted while the country’s currency weakened amid economic controls.

Nonetheless, Chavez maintained a core of supporters who stayed loyal to their “comandante” until the end.

“Chavez masterfully exploits the disenchantment of people who feel excluded ... and he feeds on controversy whenever he can,” Cristina Marcano and Alberto Barrera Tyszka wrote in their book “Hugo Chavez: The Definitive Biography of Venezuela’s Controversial President.”

Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias was born on July 28, 1954, in the rural town of Sabaneta in Venezuela’s western plains. He was the son of schoolteacher parents and the second of six brothers.

Chavez was a fine baseball player and hoped he might one day pitch in the U.S. major leagues. When he joined the military at age 17, he aimed to keep honing his baseball skills in the capital.

But the young soldier immersed himself in the history of Bolivar and other Venezuelan heroes who had overthrown Spanish rule, and his political ideas began to take shape.

Chavez burst into public view in 1992 as a paratroop commander leading a military rebellion that brought tanks to the presidential palace. When the coup collapsed, Chavez was allowed to make a televised statement in which he declared that his movement had failed “for now.” The speech, and those two defiant words, launched his career, searing his image into the memory of Venezuelans.

He and other coup prisoners were released in 1994, and President Rafael Caldera dropped the charges against them.

Chavez then organized a new political party and ran for president four years later, vowing to shatter Venezuela’s traditional two-party system. At age 44, he became the country’s youngest president in four decades of democracy with 56 percent of the vote.

Chavez was re-elected in 2000 in an election called under a new constitution drafted by his allies. His increasingly confrontational style and close ties to Cuba, however, disenchanted many of the middle-class supporters who had voted for him. The next several years saw bold but failed attempts by opponents to dislodge him from power.

In 2002, he survived a short-lived coup, which began after a large anti-Chavez street protest ended in deadly shootings. Dissident military officers detained the president and announced he had resigned. But within two days, he returned to power with the help of military loyalists while his supporters rallied in the streets.

Chavez emerged a stronger president. He defeated a subsequent opposition-led strike that paralyzed the country’s oil industry, and he fired thousands of state oil company employees.

The coup also turned Chavez more decidedly against the U.S. government, which had swiftly recognized the provisional leader who had briefly replaced him. He created political and trade alliances that excluded the U.S., and he cozied up to Iran and Syria in large part, it seemed, due to their shared antagonism toward the U.S. government.

Despite the souring relationship, Chavez sold the bulk of Venezuela’s oil to the United States.

He easily won re-election in 2006, and then said it was his destiny to lead Venezuela until 2021 or even 2031.

“I’m still a subversive,” Chavez said in a 2007 interview with The Associated Press. “I think the entire world has to be subverted.”

Playing such a larger-than-life public figure ultimately left little time for a personal life.

His second marriage, to journalist Marisabel Rodriguez, deteriorated in the early years of his presidency, and they divorced in 2004. In addition to their one daughter, Rosines, Chavez had three children from his first marriage, which ended before Chavez ran for office.

Chavez acknowledged after he was diagnosed with cancer that he had been recklessly neglecting his health. He had taken to staying up late and drinking as many as 40 cups of coffee a day. He regularly summoned his Cabinet ministers to the presidential palace late at night.

He often said he believed Venezuela was on its way down a long road toward socialism, and that there was no turning back. After winning re-election in 2012, he vowed to deepen his push to transform Venezuela.

His political movement, however, was mostly a one-man show. Only three days before his final surgery, Chavez named Maduro as his chosen successor.

Now, it will be up to Venezuelans to determine whether the Chavismo movement can survive, and how it will evolve, without the leader who inspired it.

Comments (12) Add comment
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Darby
25005
Points
Darby 03/05/13 - 06:19 pm
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2
Had nothing but contempt for the guy.....

but have to respect him as a fighter...

Would rather have seen him taken out in a coup rather than succumb to a disease like that.

Shortcomment
1158
Points
Shortcomment 03/05/13 - 06:58 pm
2
1
No Love Loss Here

he was a thug, a murder, a Dictator and a Typical Socialist. He changed the laws to meet his needs and skirted the constitution or changed how it read as his political party pleased.

Sounds like the types we have too many of in Washington now.

dahreese
4703
Points
dahreese 03/05/13 - 07:18 pm
1
2
"Chavez’s social programs won
Unpublished

"Chavez’s social programs won him enduring support: Poverty rates declined from 50 percent at the beginning of his term in 1999 to 32 percent in the second half of 2011."

Lord knows we certainly don't want to cut poverty rates from 50% to 32% in this country.

Better we have high poverty in Augusta, high drop out rates in our schools, less poor people working and more on welfare.

CobaltGeorge
154937
Points
CobaltGeorge 03/05/13 - 07:58 pm
1
1
Prepare American Taxpayers,

you will be funding and unplanned trip to Venezuela by Air Force One. One of his mentors has died.

rmwhitley
5542
Points
rmwhitley 03/05/13 - 08:14 pm
0
0
Speaking of trivia:
Unpublished

the common slug has a higher IQ than the present president, vice president, senate majority leader, senators and representatives--- combined. sean penn will more than likely be a chavez pallbearer as will obama's secretary of state, dennis rodman.

Darby
25005
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Darby 03/05/13 - 09:41 pm
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0
"He changed the laws to meet his needs.....

and skirted the constitution or changed how it read as his political party pleased."

Sounds like Obama's role model....

Darby
25005
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Darby 03/05/13 - 10:43 pm
1
0
"Lord knows we certainly don't want.....

to cut poverty rates from 50% to 32% in this country."

.
Dahreese - If you can suspend the hero worship for about a minute, you might want to consider the fact that realistically speaking, WE DON'T HAVE REAL POVERTY IN THE UNITED STATES.

Our so-called poor in this country look like Bill Gates to the people of Venezuela. What we call poor here is based on the progressive/liberal concept of wealth envy and the ideal of equality of result (through redistribution of wealth) rather than equality of opportunity.

You and Sean Penn might want to try living in Venezuela for a while. On the local economy that is, and not in a resort hotel designed for Americans and rich Europeans.

Darby
25005
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Darby 03/06/13 - 01:16 am
2
0
In Venezuela, you have a despot who nationalized the....

huge oil industry and reserves of a small county, then turned the profits of that industry into a cash cow to buy re-election and support.

Obama should be so lucky. Since he can't convert oil sales to his own use, he has to ignore the flood of illegal immigration, demonize those who create and grow our nation's economy, encourage wealth envy, give away cell phones, and flood the country with EBT cards in order to buy votes and support.

They are both without morals. But like I said, Chavez was a fighter.

PS - Just read on a news site that Chavez skimmed more than two billion $$ from his country's oil sales while president. Gotta give him credit. Sure lifted his family out of "poverty".

dahreese
4703
Points
dahreese 03/06/13 - 03:04 pm
0
2
"WE DON'T HAVE REAL POVERTY
Unpublished

"WE DON'T HAVE REAL POVERTY IN THE UNITED STATES."

Really?

Do you suppose those living out of tents under bridges here in Georgia have it all that good?

Care to go with me to some of the coal country in Virginia?

Care to stand in a soup line in this country?

This business that our poor have it so much better than the poor in other countries is a myth created for the benefit of those who are willing to fall for it.

Why is it so difficult for political "conservatives" and conservative "christians" to see and admit the dark side of our own government and to call for accountability of our own war criminals?

How is it that you can stand with your hand over your heart, say the words "with liberty and justice for all" and ignore the wrong doings in other countries committed by our own government?

Or is it that you just don't want to, or do not have the ability to, or would feel like a traitor if you admitted it?

Darby
25005
Points
Darby 03/06/13 - 03:37 pm
1
0
"This business that our poor have it so much....

better than the poor in other countries is a myth created for the benefit of those who are willing to fall for it."

.
You just keep on preaching that tripe.. I know you don't believe it anyway, but it does serve a political purpose.

I've been to every continent (except Australia) on the surface of the globe and I've seen real poverty. Believe me, (wasting my breath on you) real poverty is not what we have here.

BTW - Mentally ill folks who choose to live under bridges aren't there because they are poor. But you know that already. One who died on the streets last year was reported to have left more than a million dollars in his estate. Plus, there are assistance programs for those folks that they just almost universally refuse to avail themselves of. But you know that too.

When the flood of immigration is from the U.S. to your third world dictatorships instead of the other way around, then you get back to me.

Darby
25005
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Darby 03/06/13 - 07:08 pm
1
0
Previous post was taken ....

down so now I'm left hanging.

Just like to say to those so prone to criticize America; don't be so quick to let the perfect get in the way of the good.

If you really try, you can find scores of countries much worse to live in.

Shortcomment
1158
Points
Shortcomment 03/06/13 - 07:45 pm
0
0
Let us use a honest guideline

The World Bank has defined extreme poverty as living on less than 1.25 USD a day, and moderate poverty as less than 2.0 USD a day, since 2008.
http://data.worldbank.org/topic/poverty

31.9% of Venezuela lives in poverty.
So much for the idea that SOCIALISM will fix everything.

The USA.
The average poor / poverty living person in the USA gets just over $75 a day in federal, state, county and/or city via assistance, handouts and charity group donations. About $28,000 a year without lifting a finger.

I would say the USA is leaps a bounds ahead on 80% of the world.

Darby
25005
Points
Darby 03/06/13 - 10:41 pm
1
0
Shortcomment - You say that our "poor" get handed....

about "$28,000 a year without lifting a finger".

The college major with the lowest earnings by recent graduates (2011) was Child and Family Studies, where the median starting salary was $29,500. (On which they must pay taxes.)

In other words, some of our college grads don't do any better our average "poor". And they or their parents have to pay through the nose for four years just for the privilege. Then they get stuck paying off student loans. Yeah, America's "poor really have it rough"

Interesting... Wonder how Hugo would have solved that dilemma?

Shortcomment
1158
Points
Shortcomment 03/07/13 - 12:14 pm
1
0
To avoid any arguement lets use a LIBERAL SOURCE

An acknowledged Liberal Information source the. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/12/us-poverty-census_n_1877197.html

"For last year, the official poverty line was an annual income of $23,021 for a family of four. Sept 12, 2012

This is a working wage that is quoted and does not include the value of hand out benefits that many also receive for being low income.

It goes on to mention the USA poverty rate has basically unchanged from 1993. Which when applied to other presented info and known facts, this means that between 1983 and 1993 it improved.

The presidents were Reagan's 2nd year of 8 years in office to only the 1st year of Bush Sr., in office. Or about the time BUSH approved NEW TAX HIKES and killed the recreation industry.

This also means there were NO improvements under Clinton's 8 years, Bush jr, 8 years and no improvement under Obama's 1st 4 years. .

I am guessing now but wars, terrorist attacks and Obamacare all have had deep impacts on the results.

But still even our poor eat better, are better schooled and are care for better that a vast majority of the world.

Darby
25005
Points
Darby 03/07/13 - 01:03 pm
1
0
Call my view jaundiced if you like, but.....

until I see American children, eating one meal or less a day, as I have in much of the world, until I see children who are dirty, passing food with fingers from bowl to mouth with no regard to the flies swarming over it, then I still see our nation's definition of "poor" as argumentative.

I am certainly in favor of, and will work to raise the standard of living for all Americans. I simply believe that it's possible without using wealth envy as the primary tool to accomplish that goal.

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