Hugo Chavez. Photo by Rodrigo Arangua, AFP / Getty Images.
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the socialist leader who assailed U.S. influence in Latin America in his campaign against capitalism and democratic freedoms, died Tuesday. He was 58.
Chávez succumbed to cancer after months of treatments in Cuba, whose communist leaders he admired and propped up with cheap Venezuelan oil.
In power for 14 years, Chávez used oil money and vitriol to spread his "Bolivarian revolution" to neighboring states, playing a role in bolstering leftward turns in Ecuador and Bolivia and backing revolutionaries in Colombia. He hectored the United States often, belittling its leaders and cozying up to its adversaries.
In Venezuela, Chávez was a hero to impoverished villagers who had never shared in the country's oil wealth and benefited from housing improvements and health clinics. Detractors saw him as a dictator, packing the oil industry with incompetent cronies, repressing political opponents and ruining Venezuela's attempts to modernize and democratize.
Chávez dismantled Venezuela's democratic political system, rewrote the country's constitution in his favor, clamped down on freedom of expression and tried to spread his version of socialism throughout the continent. Some scholars said his claim to be working for the poor rang hollow.
By Girish Gupta, USA TODAY