Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez lost his battle with cancer today. The socialist leader, who rose to power in 1999 and implemented a political ideology called Bolivarian Revolution, first announced he had cancer in July 2011.
The president remained optimistic about a full recovery, getting many surgeries in Cuba, until Dec. 2012 when he announced that the cancer returned and named vice president Nicolás Maduro as his successor in the event he was unable to continue to lead the country. The announcement came just weeks after Chávez was elected to a new six-year term, which began in January 2013.
Chávez was one of seven children born to poor schoolteachers of Indian, African, and Spanish ancestry in Sabaneta, Barinas, a sugar-producing town in Venezuela. Raised by his grandmother, a devout Catholic whom he adored, Chávez was an altar boy at his local church before starting a military career that spanned 17 years.
Growing frustrated with the army’s use of torture, Chávez began reading Marxist literature and was further convinced that Venezuela needed a leftist government in Venezuela.
In the early 1980s, he founded the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200) to overthrow the government. Chávez led an unsuccessful coup d'état against President Carlos Andrés Pérez's Democratic Action government in 1992 and was imprisoned.
After two years, he was released from prison and founded a social democratic political party called the Fifth Republic Movement. In 1998, he was elected president of Venezuela and has been re-elected four times since. During his presidency, Chávez introduced a new constitution, increased government funding for health care and education, and made significant reductions in poverty.
Chávez called his system of governing, which has been largely criticized by capitalist governments, "Socialism of the 21st Century," a political term coined by German political analyst Heinz Dieterich in 1996. Chavez said his way was based "in solidarity, in fraternity, in love, in justice, in liberty, and in equality."
Chávez disagreed with the United States foreign policies and was allies with Cuba's Fidel and Raúl Castro, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Ecuador's Rafael Correa, and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.
Chávez was married twice. His first wife, Nancy Colmenares, was from the same town he grew up and they had three children together—Rosa Virginia, María Gabriela, and Hugo Rafael. His second marriage was to journalist Marisabel Rodríguez de Chávez, whom he divorced in 2000 and had another daughter, Rosinés.
Venezuelan journalists Cristina Marcano and Alberto Barrera Tyszka, who wrote Hugo Chavez: The Definitive Biography of Venezuela's Controversial President, believed that within only a few years of his presidency, Chavez "had already earned his place in history as the president most loved and most despised by the Venezuelan people, the president who inspired the greatest zeal and the deepest revulsion at the same time."
Time magazine named Chávez one of the world's 100 most influential people in 2005 and 2006.
According to the Venezuelan constitution, new elections for presidency have to be called within 30 days, with vice president Nicolás Maduro strongly endorsed.