Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a former paratrooper who rose to prominence as the leader of a failed military coup, only to survive an attempted overthrow of his own, has died, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said.
Chavez’s death came after a protracted battle with cancer. He was 58.
The fiercely anti-American leader ran Venezuela for 14 years, consistently beating back both domestic opposition and international pressure for years. After winning re-election in October 2012, Chavez’ debilitated state forced him to drop out of sight, causing him to miss his own inauguration as he underwent a strict chemotherapy in Cuba.
As his health reportedly worsened, speculation swirled about who was running the country — and who could take Chavez’s place in the event of his likely demise.
Chavez disclosed in 2011 that he had cancer yet never publicly disclosed which form of cancer. He had undergone multiple surgeries for tumors in the stomach and reports from Venezuela suggested it may have been sarcoma, a form of soft-tissue cancer.
One of Latin America’s last remaining strongmen, Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias was a former military officer was first elected president of one of Latin America’s largest petro-exporting economies in 1999. He immediately harnessed Venezuela’s vast oil resources – and his broad support among the poor and working class – to tailor his country and the region into an image more to his liking.
The left-wing and often polarizing populist laid claim to a form of governance called “Bolivarianism”, which fused Socialist principles with the ethos of Simon Bolivar, a Venezuelan general who championed South America’s independence in the 19thcentury. That helped Bolivar to achieve folk hero status,which Chavez used to mold his own pan-Latin American beliefs.
Born in 1954 to two school teachers, Chavez first rose to prominence in 1992 when he spearheaded an abortive attempt to overthrow the government of then president Carlos Andres Perez. The revolt claimed nearly 20 lives, and earned Chavez a two year prison sentence before he was pardoned. He then embarked on a political career that ushered him into the presidency in 1999.
In his efforts to craft a new “Bolivarian Republic,” Chavez was a frequent and unapologetic antagonist of the United States, aligning his country with other foes of American interests. In a 2006 speech, he famously took to the stage of the United Nations to liken then President George W. Bush to”the devil”, adding that the venue “smells of sulfur.”
The roots of his fierce U.S. opposition were sown in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. The Venezuelan leader denounced the Bush administration’s anti-terror efforts, and relations with America reached their nadir in 2002, when a group of opponents attempted to overthrow Chavez’s government. After his return to power, Chavez accused the U.S. of covertly engineering the coup.
Until his struggle with cancer prompted him to head to Cubato seek medical treatment, Chavez had not been seen in public since December 11.
His absence from Venezuela in the latter days of his life touched off a wave of political wrangling and court decisions, which culminated in a Supreme Court decision that endorsed a postponement of his inauguration. Members of Venezuela’s divided opposition had argued that the constitution demanded a January 10 swearing-in.
His presence in Cuba was a product of medical necessity and political expediency. Longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro was both Chavez’s geopolitical ally and a source of ideological inspiration. Cuba was also a beneficiary of Chavez’s petro-fueled largesse, with the country frequently receiving shipments of subsidized oil from Venezuela.
Venezuela has the second largest oil reserves in the world — 211 billion barrels, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).They are the fourth largest supplier to the US, providing 951,000 barrels per day.