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Farewell forever, commander': Tens of thousands of 'Chavistas' dressed in revolutionary red line streets to witness Hugo Chavez's coffin carried through streets

President Hugo Chavez, the fiery populist who declared a socialist revolution in Venezuela, crusaded against US influence and championed a leftist revival across Latin America.

During more than 14 years in office, Chavez routinely challenged the status quo at home and internationally.

He polarised Venezuelans with his confrontational and domineering style, yet was also a masterful communicator and strategist who tapped into Venezuelan nationalism to win broad support, particularly among the poor. 

Chavez repeatedly proved himself a political survivor. As an army paratroop commander, he led a failed coup in 1992, then was pardoned and elected president in 1998.

He survived a coup against his own presidency in 2002 and won re-election two more times. 

The burly president electrified crowds with his booming voice, often wearing the bright red of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela or the fatigues and red beret of his army days.

Before his struggle with cancer, he appeared on television almost daily, talking for hours at a time and often breaking into song of philosophical discourse. 

Chavez used his country's vast oil wealth to launch social programs that include state-run food markets, new public housing, free health clinics and education programs.

Poverty declined during Chavez's presidency amid a historic boom in oil earnings, but critics said he failed to use the windfall of hundreds of billions of dollars to develop the country's economy. Inflation soared and the homicide rate rose to among the highest in the world. 

Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba in June 2011 to remove what he said was a baseball-size tumor from his pelvic region, and the cancer returned repeatedly over the next 18 months despite more surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

He kept secret key details of his illness, including the type of cancer and the precise location of the tumors.

 
Taking control: he was first elected president in 1998, becoming the country's youngest ever president

Taking control: He was first elected president in 1998, becoming the country's youngest ever president

'El Comandante', as he was known, stayed in touch with the Venezuelan people during his treatment via Twitter and phone calls broadcast on television, but even those messages dropped off as his health deteriorated.

Throughout his presidency, Chavez said he hoped to fulfill Bolivar's unrealized dream of uniting South America. 

Supporters saw Chavez as the latest in a colorful line of revolutionary legends, from Fidel Castro to Argentine-born Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, while he saw himself as a revolutionary.

His performances included renditions of folk songs and impromptu odes to Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong and 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. 

Critics saw Chavez as a typical Latin American caudillo, a strongman who ruled through force of personality and showed disdain for democratic rules. Chavez concentrated power in his hands with allies who dominated the congress and justices who controlled the Supreme Court. 

Popular: chavez survived a coup against his own presidency in 2002 and won re-election two more times

Popular: Chavez survived a coup against his own presidency in 2002 and won re-election two more times

He insisted all the while that Venezuela remained a vibrant democracy and denied trying to restrict free speech. But some opponents faced criminal charges and were driven into exile. 

While Chavez trumpeted plans for communes and an egalitarian society, his soaring rhetoric regularly conflicted with reality.

Despite government seizures of companies and farmland, the balance between Venezuela's public and private sectors changed little during his presidency. 

And even as the poor saw their incomes rise, those gains were blunted while the country's currency weakened amid economic controls. 

Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias was born on July 28, 1954, in the rural town of Sabaneta in Venezuela's western plains. He was the son of schoolteacher parents and the second of six brothers. 

When he joined the military at 17, he aimed to keep honing his baseball skills in the capital. 

But the young soldier immersed himself in the history of Bolivar and other Venezuelan heroes who had overthrown Spanish rule, and his political ideas began to take shape. 

Chavez burst into public view in 1992 as a paratroop commander leading a military rebellion that brought tanks to the presidential palace. When the coup collapsed, Chavez was allowed to make a televised statement. The speech launched his career, searing his image into the memory of Venezuelans. 

He and other coup prisoners were released in 1994, and President Rafael Caldera dropped the charges against them. 

Chavez then organized a new political party and ran for president four years later, vowing to shatter Venezuela's traditional two-party system.

 
Idol: cuban president fidel castro was one of chavez's heroes

Idol: Cuban President Fidel Castro was one of Chavez's heroes

At age 44, he became the country's youngest president in four decades of democracy with 56 percent of the vote. 

Chavez was re-elected in 2000 in an election called under a new constitution drafted by his allies. His increasingly confrontational style and close ties to Cuba, however, disenchanted many of the middle-class supporters who had voted for him. 

In 2002, he survived a short-lived coup, which began after a large anti-Chavez street protest ended in deadly shootings. 

Chavez emerged a stronger president. He defeated a subsequent opposition-led strike that paralysed the country's oil industry and he fired thousands of state oil company employees.

Despite a souring relationship with the US, Chavez sold the bulk of Venezuela's oil to the country.

He easily won re-election in 2006, and then said it was his destiny to lead Venezuela until 2021 or even 2031. 

Playing such a larger-than-life public figure ultimately left little time for a personal life. His second marriage, to journalist Marisabel Rodriguez, deteriorated in the early years of his presidency, and they divorced in 2004.

In addition to their one daughter, Rosines, Chavez had three children from his first marriage, which ended before Chavez ran for office. 

Chavez acknowledged after he was diagnosed with cancer that he had been recklessly neglecting his health. He had taken to staying up late and drinking as many as 40 cups of coffee a day. He regularly summoned his Cabinet ministers to the presidential palace late at night.


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