Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez succumbed to a two-year battle with cancer on Tuesday. The firebrand socialist relished taking verbal shots at the U.S. and once called George W. Bush ‘the devil.’
A year before being diagnosed with cancer, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was snapped in Cancun, Mexico on Feb. 21, 2010.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the firebrand socialist and avowed enemy of the United States who transformed politics in his native country, died Tuesday at the age of 58.
Diagnosed with an unspecified variety of cancer, Chavez had undergone surgery on four different occasions to treat the disease. After an operation in Cuba on Dec. 11, Chavez was too feeble to return to Venezuela in January to be sworn in for his fourth term as president.
Though Chavez was able to return home in February, he stayed largely out of the public eye before developing what government officials described as a “new, severe” infection that ultimately took his life.
In 2002, Chavez held a government march to commemorate the anniversary of Venezuelan democracy.
A public funeral will be held for Chavez on Friday, Venezuela’s oreign minister Elias Jaua said.
For the moment, Chavez’s hand picked successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, will take over duties as president until an election is held in 30 days, Jaua said. On Tuesday, Maduro announced the expulsion of American diplomat David del Monaco who he said was trying to “destabilize the country.”
Sworn in as president on Feb. 4, 1999, Hugo Chavez saluted the crowd next to his wife Marisabel Chavez during a military parade commemorating the seventh anniversary of his failed 1992 coup in Caracas.
Long a thorn in the side of the United States government, news of Chavez’s passing was greeted in Washington with a sense of optimism that relations might improve with Venezuela.
“At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government,” President Obama said in a statement. “As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law and respect for human rights.”
A champion of the poor to some, who came to be seen as a dictator by his opponents, Chavez was born on July 28, 1954, to a working-class family. At the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences in Caracas, Chavez became enamored of the teachings Che Guevara, as well as the political philosophy of 19th-Century revolutionary Simon Bolivar.
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez takes part in an ecumenic ceremony to pray for his health and cancer treatment at Miraflores Palace in Caracas in this August 21, 2011.
While a paratrooper in Venezuela’s military, Chavez founded the Bolivian Revolution Army-200, and in 1992 launched a failed coup d’etat against the country’s government. Under the terms of his surrender, Chavez, who had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel was allowed to deliver a televised address in which he promised that “new opportunities” would arise for reform.
Though he was sentenced to two years in a military prison, his brazen speech had landed Chavez firmly in the public consciousness.
Chavez spoke to reporters at the Defense Ministry in 1992 after he surrendered to the troops loyal to the government of Carlos Andres Perez in Caracas, Venezuela.
Upon his release from prison, Chavez traveled the country forging ties with socialist sympathizers, and later flew to Cuba to meet Fidel Castro, who would become his friend and mentor.
In 1997, Chavez turned away from his belief in armed resistance, transforming the Bolivian Revolution Army-200 in to a political party called the Movement of the Fifth Republic and successfully ran a populist campaign for president that aggressively courted the vote of Venezuela’s poor.
“The resurrection of Venezuela has begun, and nothing and no one can stop it.” Chavez declared his victory speech.
Venezulean President Hugo Chavez was born on July 28, 1954, and was raised by working-class parents in the town of Barinas.
Chavez would go on to be re-elected 3 more times, building on his margin of victory each time. In 1999, Chavez called a referendum to radically reshape the country’s constitution, designed to take the country in a more socialist direction. The measure passed, establishing new rights to education, healthcare, food and housing for all of Venezuela’s citizens.
“We have to re-invent socialism. It can’t be the kind of socialism that we saw in the Soviet Union, but it will emerge as we develop new systems that are built on cooperation, not competition,” Chavez told the World Social Forum in Brazil in 2005.
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez (l.) talks to President Obama.
While human rights groups praised his efforts on behalf of the poor, they sharply criticized Chavez for curtailing the role of the press and going after his political opponents.
Though he remained popular with a large sector of the Venezuelan population, crime rates soared in the oil-rich nation during his presidency, and accusations of corruption grew steadily louder.
Chavez also seemed to relish his role as an antagonist toward the United States. He called U.S. imperialism as “the grand destroyer of the world, and the greatest threat,” and took pleasure forming alliances with American enemies such as Cuba and Iran.
In later years, Castro’s health declined. In Aug. 2006, he is pictured receiving a hospital visit from Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez visits with ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2006.
Like Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he often used his microphone to criticize the U.S. government. In a 2006 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, he railed against the U.S. war in Iraq, and called then-president George W. Bush “the devil.”
Despite his incendiary rhetoric, however, Chavez moved slowly when it came to fully implementing socialist rule. A growing economy buoyed by high oil prices, Chavez was able to cut the poverty rate, but all the while took steps to consolidate his own power.
In October, he was re-elected to a fourth term with an impressive 54 percent of the vote.
“Today we’ve shown that Venezuela’s democracy is one of the best democracies in the world, and we will continue to show it,” Chavez shouted to throngs of his supporters.