Chávez attempted to fight poverty and high inflation by imposing price controls, and nationalizing key sectors of the Venezuelan economy. He expanded the number of judges on Venezuela's supreme court and packed it with his supporters in order to make such reforms legally possible.
But these tactics did not go well with Venezuela's business elite, which saw its economic freedoms limited. In April 2002, a coalition of business associations and rebellious officers attempted to oust Chávez through a coup, which was executed in the midst of large protests against the Chávez government that were mostly attended by members of the country's middle class.
But Chávez survived the coup attempt, thanks to his support among the poor, and also because some key officers stayed loyal to the Venezuelan president.
In the following years, Chávez deepened state control over the economy and expanded social programs, as oil prices once again rose to historic levels.
He survived a referendum against his rule, and later launched a referendum of his own in which voters approved constitutional changes that eliminated presidential term limits in Venezuela.
Chávez was accused of using Venezuela's oil money to win elections, increasing government spending dramatically each time presidential elections were on the horizon.
The Venezuelan leader also used oil money to back leftist governments in Nicaragua, Bolivia and Argentina. He financed social projects in those countries, and helped them to pay their debts.
Chávez backed the Castro regime in Cuba with subsidized oil shipments that were crucial for the island's economy.
As he established himself as one of Latin America's most influential leaders, Chávez also became an outspoken critic of the U.S. government, which he sometimes referred to simply as "the empire."
Chávez blasted the U.S. for backing free market economic policies around the world, claiming that they benefited big business, and not the global poor.
He accused political opponents at home of being "servants" of the empire and spoke out aggressively against the invasion of Iraq.
But Chávez never halted Venezuelan oil shipments to the U.S., which meant that his government derived much of its income from selling oil to the country that it criticized the most.
At home, Chávez faced protests over media censorship after he refused to renew the broadcasting license of RCTV, an opposition leaning TV station that was accused of participating in the 2002 coup attempt.
His government was also criticized for high levels of corruption, which were reflected in Venezuela's low standings in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.
These problems affected the average Venezuelan and hurt Chávez's popularity. But the socialist leader still managed to get elected to a fourth term in office in 2012, winning reelection with 55 percent of the vote.
A large number of Venezuelans benefited from the social programs put in place by Chávez, and many saw the socialist leader as the first president that truly cared for the country's poor.
Today, thousands of people are mourning his death in the streets of Caracas, and other Venezuelan cities, while others hold their breath and hope for a peaceful transition in Venezuela, which has not been ruled by anyone else since 1998.