Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Is Dead at 58

PHOTO:  Venezuelas President Hugo Chavez speaks to soldiers.
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Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez died today at 4:25 p.m., Caracas time, according to Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro. He was 58.

The socialist leader, whose politics deeply polarized his nation, had been battling cancer since June 2011, when a tumor was found in his pelvic area.

But Chávez had never fully disclosed details about his health condition, leaving his people in the dark about how close he was to death's doorstep.

See Also: Venezuelan Govt. Suggests Chavez Was Killed by "Enemies"

News of his death shocked his nation of 25 million, which currently holds the world's largest proven oil reserves.

Hugo Chávez was revered by Venezuela's poor, who considered him one of their own.

The Venezuelan leader was born in 1954, to two humble school teachers in the small town of Sabaneta.

Biographers of Chávez say that the president was mostly raised by his grandmother, Rosa Chávez and grew up learning about revolutionary heroes from the Llanos, a vast expanse of flatlands that make up Venezuela's cowboy country.

At age 17, Chávez decided to enlist in Venezuela's military academy, which forced him to move from tranquil Sabaneta to the capital city of Caracas, a town that was growing rapidly in the 1970s thanks to the first global spike in oil prices.

As a young soldier, he was stationed in several parts of the country, and in the mid-1970s, he completed a stint with a unit that fought against leftist guerrillas in the Andes mountains.

Chávez would later say that his experiences as a soldier encouraged him to form the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement (MRB in Spanish), an underground group of nationalist officers who were unhappy with the high poverty rates in oil-rich Venezuela and the corrupt practices of the country's political leaders. The group was founded in 1983, on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Venezuelan independence hero Simón Bolívar. Nine years later in 1992, several of its members would help Chávez launch a coup attempt, which sought to overthrow President Carlos Andrés Pérez, and overturn his neoliberal economic policies.

The coup failed, as critical elements of the military stayed loyal to Pérez.

But as one of the conditions to surrender, Chávez requested that government forces allow him to address the nation on TV, to explain his actions.

The government conceded, requesting also that Chávez tell rebellious soldiers elsewhere in the country to lay down their weapons.

But the brief TV appearance also gave Chávez the opportunity to become known across the nation, and in a strange way, it is what launched his political career.

"For the moment, our objectives in Caracas have not been achieved," a stoic Chávez said in front of TV cameras. The phrase "for the moment" became a slogan amongst his growing group of followers.

Chávez was put in jail. But he was pardoned by President Rafael Caldera, and in 1998, just six years after his failed coup attempt, he won the Venezuelan presidency by a landslide in an election where voters punished the country's traditional parties.

During his first term in office, Chávez took bold decisions aimed at reforming Venezuela and changing its political class.

He changed the country's official name to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (after Simón Bolívar). He dissolved Congress, and set up a constitutional assembly that changed Venezuela's constitution within two years and called for new elections in 2000, which Chávez easily won.

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