Venezuela's Hugo Chavez dies from cancer
President was charismatic, alienating leader of oil-rich South American nation
Even his harshest critics remember him as a swashbuckling, flamboyant thorn in the side to the United States. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has lost his long battle with cancer at the age of 58. His death was officially announced by Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused the United States of trying to orchestrate his overthrow, and referred to President George W. Bush as the devil in front of the United Nations General Assembly.
A highly vocal opponent of the United States and its policies, he encouraged other leaders to take a similar stance.
His health had been closely shrouded in secrets over the last several months. He underwent a fourth surgery on December 11 in Cuba, and was not publicly seen again. A handful of pictures released this month were the last images the public had of their president.
Chavez launched an ambitious plan to remake Venezuela, a major oil producer, into a socialist state in the so-called Bolivarian Revolution, which took its name from Chavez's idol, Simon Bolivar, who won independence for many South American countries in the early 1800s.
"After many readings, debates, discussions, travels around the world, etcetera, I am convinced -- and I believe this conviction will be for the rest of my life -- that the path to a new, better and possible world is not capitalism. The path is socialism," he said on his weekly television program in 2005.
Chavez redirected much of the country's vast oil wealth to massive social programs for the country's poor. He expanded the portfolio of the state-owned oil monopoly to include funding for social "missions" worth millions of dollars. He also paid for programs that seek to eradicate illiteracy, provide affordable food staples and grant access to higher education.
Unfortunately, Chavez also left a legacy of repression against those who opposed him.
Through political maneuvering, many political opponents found themselves barred from running in elections against the ruling party. Former allies, such as Chavez's onetime defense minister, Gen. Raul Baduel, faced accusations that critics called trumped-up corruption charges.
Chavez was also not a proponent of free speech and thought. His government similarly targeted opposition broadcasters, passing laws and decrees that forced at least one major broadcaster and dozens of smaller radio and television stations off the air.
Critics have denounced his social programs, calling them unsustainable over the long run and responsible for unintended consequences.
Chavez also accused the United States of trying to orchestrate his overthrow, and referred to President George W. Bush as the devil in front of the United Nations General Assembly.
Married and divorced twice, Chavez is survived by his four daughters.
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