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Hugo Chavez


Hugo Chavez

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez speaks at a press conference in Miraflores Palace on Dec. 5, 2006, in Caracas, Venezuela.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Who is he?:

The president of Venezuela since February 1999, Chavez has captured headlines for being a thorn in the side of Western leaders and for regularly offering a bevy of antagonistic, paranoid, nationalist soundbites.


July 28, 1954, in Sabaneta, Venezuela, a sugar-producing region in the western part of the nation. His parents were schoolteachers. His family is Mestizo, a mixture of Spanish, indigenous, and African descent. Chavez's mother wanted him to become a priest; instead, Chavez the president would engage in numerous clashes with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.

Personal life:

Chavez first married Nancy Colmenares at age 23, a union that would last 18 years and produce two girls and one boy. During this first marriage, Chavez had a nine-year extramarital affair with historian Herma Marksman. In 1997, Chaveaz married journalist Marisabel Rodríguez. They had a daughter, separated in 2002, and divorced in 2004. Rodriguez is now remarried to a tennis instructor and emerged as a vocal critic of her ex-husband's referendum to indefinitely extend presidential terms in 2008. Chavez also has two grandchildren.

Political affiliation:

The left-wing United Socialist Party of Venezuela.


Chavez is a career military man who served over a 17-year period whose decorated service culminated in the rank of lieutenant colonel. He also taught at his alma mater, the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences. Over this period, he incorporated theories of Marx and Lenin with his admiration of revolutionary hero Simon Bolivar. In 1992, he led an unsuccessful coup attempt against President Carlos Andrés Pérez, for which he served two years in prison. He was pardoned by President Rafael Caldera in 1994, dove headlong into politics, and won the presidency in 1998 with 56 percent of the vote. After twice attempting to pass a constitutional referendum to extend presidential terms indefinitely, Chavez succeeded on the second try. But the campaign produced allegations of buying votes and other irregularities, and the referendum exposed the chasm between the pro- and anti-Chavez forces in the country. Declaring that he has a mandate for a socialist transformation in the country, Chavez continued to dismantle free media and nationalize various industries. Rising crime and unemployment also threaten his rule, but Chavez concentrated on forging alliances from Iran to other leftists in Latin America.


After about two years of receiving treatment in Cuba for an undisclosed form of cancer, Chavez succumbed to the disease and died on March 5, 2013. His handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro, was sworn in as interim president.


“I have said it already, I am convinced that the way to build a new and better world is not capitalism. Capitalism leads us straight to hell.” -- Chavez on his weekly "Alo Presidente!" show in 2005
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