Hugo Chavez has ruled Venezuela since 1999, aiming to put into place his dreams of a Bolivarian revolution and infuriating critics with his curbs on press freedom and free enterprise. With the shadowy revelation in 2011 of his treatment for cancer, speculation has been growing about what could happen in a post-Chavez Venezuela. Here's where Chavez has taken the country over more than a decade.
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.
The Bolivarian philosophy pushed by Chavez incorporates the Marxist influences gleaned from another hero and mentor of Chavez, Fidel Castro. Unlike Castro's insulated Cuba, though, Chavez has tried to push his agenda onto the regional stage and use Venezuela's oil power to give a higher profile to this brand of Latin American leftism. Chavez has gradually clamped down on freedoms within the country, though, closing media outlets, tamping down opposition movements, and nationalizing various industries.
Chavez's focus on nationalist grandstanding against his enemy of the hour simply -- conveniently -- draws the focus away from mounting troubles at home. For example, the Venezuelan oil industry -- the crutch of the country's economy -- faces a bleak outlook, with oil exports falling 6.4 percent in June compared to the same month in 2009. Despite being the fifth-leading producer in OPEC, Chavez has turned to China for about $20 billion in loans for national development projects, sending the country's once-miniscule foreign debt skyward.
Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez may be reviled in many corners for his socialist policies, crackdowns on press freedom, strident anti-U.S. attitudes, and friendships with rogue regimes such as Iran and North Korea, but he has friends in the left corner of Hollywood, beyond just Sean Penn and Oliver Stone.
Not only did Chavez waltz in three hours late, but he droned on for more than eight hours. Unfortunately, the speech was carried in a mandatory TV and radio broadcast, so few Venezuelans were spared from the ordeal. In addition to claiming that he's totally solved the problem of the country's homeless street children, Chavez expressed hope that the Barack Obama administration would leave him alone.
The capital Caracas has one of the highest murder rates per capita in the world, as armed gangs often operate with impunity in the urban areas and the poor surrounding suburbs are rarely patrolled by police. Gangs take advantage of the lack of police presence to carry out crimes in broad daylight. Deteriorating economic conditions have been neglected by the government. Human rights groups have flagged extrajudicial killings of political opponents by security agents of Hugo Chavez's government.
After counting social networking sites among the vast conspirators conspiring against him, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has had an epiphany to join them to beat them... or something like that. Yep, Chavez had considered Twitter to be a terrorist threat, but then apparently thought it was necessary to jump in the trenches to fight the battle.
Here are profiles of some of Chavez's Latin American counterparts, including one with whom he's been know to clash regularly: center-right Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
The country declared independence from Spain in 1811, the first Spanish-American colony to do so. Venezuela was one of three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830; the others were Ecuador and New Granada, which became Colombia. The country got a taste of democratic rule in the 1940s, but struggled with dictatorships and coups.