Fiery Venezuelan leader dies at 58

Published On: Mar 05 2013 06:06:55 PM EST
Hugo Chavez president Venezuela

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He may have kept winning elections, but that doesn't mean he had universal support in his homeland or abroad. He was briefly removed from power in 2002 by a military coup that Chavez believed was orchestrated by the United States, and survived a recall attempt in 2004.

CARACAS, Venezuela -

He saw himself as a revolutionary and savior of the poor. But the legacy of Hugo Chavez will be much more complex.

His death was announced to Venezuelans on national television this afternoon. Chavez lost a two-year battle with cancer, the only adversary he couldn't beat. He continually battled detractors and outsmarted rivals, defeating a coup attempt and winning re-election three times.

Chavez used Venezuela's vast oil income to fund social programs including food markets, free clinics, new public housing and education. That made him extremely popular with the poor. Official statistics showed poverty rates declined from 50 percent at the beginning of Chavez's first term in 1999 to 32 percent in the second half of 2011.

Chavez used his booming voice and folksy style to electrify crowds. But his 14 years in office were marked by polarized struggles and sharp criticism of the U.S. In a 2006 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, he called President George W. Bush the devil, saying the podium reeked of sulfur after Bush's address.

Hugo Chavez was 58.

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