Hugo Chavez, influential leader with mixed record, dies at 58
Caracas, Venezuela (CNN) — Hugo Chavez, the polarizing president of Venezuela who cast himself as a “21st century socialist” and foe of the United States, died Tuesday, said Vice President Nicolas Maduro.
Chavez, who had long battled cancer, was 58.
Chavez’s democratic ascent to the presidency in 1999 ushered in a new era in Venezuelan politics and its international relations.
Once a foiled coup-plotter, the swashbuckling former paratrooper was known for lengthy speeches on everything from the evils of capitalism to the proper way to conserve water while showering. He was the first of a wave of leftist presidents to come to power in Latin America in the last dozen years.
Chavez leaves a revolutionary legacy
As the most vocal U.S. adversary in the region, he influenced other leaders to take a similar stance.
But the last months of Chavez’ life were marked by an uncharacteristic silence as his health condition became “complicated,” in the words of his government. Chavez underwent a fourth surgery on December 11 in Cuba, and was not publicly seen again. A handful of pictures released in February were the last images the public had of their president.
Chavez’s ministers stubbornly maintained a hopeful message throughout the final weeks, even while admitting that the recently re-elected president was weakened while battling a respiratory infection.
President concentrated country’s power
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, which increased dramatically during his tenure, 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. That helped pay for programs that seek to eradicate illiteracy, provide affordable food staples and grant access to higher education, among other things.
But Chavez also leaves a legacy of repression against politicians and private media who opposed him.
He concentrated power in the executive branch, turning formerly independent institutions — such as the judiciary, the electoral authorities and the military — into partisan loyalists. Read More