Venezuela’s Brassy President Hugo Chavez Dies

BY Larisa Epatko  March 5, 2013 at 4:57 PM EST

View a slide show of Chavez’s political career.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who grew up in a working class family, led a failed coup, and became an internationally controversial head of state while maintaining the support of marginalized groups, died Tuesday at the age of 58.

Chavez was born on July 28, 1954, in the sugar-producing town of Sabaneta in rural Venezuela. At age 17, he enrolled in the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences in Caracas, and it was in the military that he developed the mindset that the military should work in the interest of common people when the leadership is perceived as corrupt.

He created a secret section of the military, the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army-200, and planned to overthrow the government of President Carlos Andres Perez in 1992. The coup failed, and Chavez was imprisoned, but he also was propelled to national fame.

Chavez ran for president in 1998 and won by a sizable margin. His brazen rhetoric and love of the camera increased his visibility abroad. Within the country, the socialist leader maintained support by establishing social welfare programs. He also sought to limit foreign investment in the country’s oil production and increase state control.

Despite his popularity within some regions of the country, an opposition movement was growing and he began having health issues. In 2011, Chavez told the public he was being treated for cancer.

Chavez faced his biggest challenge yet in the 2012 election campaign from newcomer Henrique Capriles. Chavez handily won re-election, but soon after had to be re-admitted to a Cuban hospital for more cancer surgery.

In early 2013, the government said he was suffering from a “severe” respiratory infection, throwing into doubt his inauguration ceremony on Jan. 10. The ceremony was canceled, and he recently returned to his homeland, where he died Tuesday, said Vice President Nicolas Maduro in a televised speech.

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