Name at birth: Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias
Hugo Chavez was the elected strongman of Venezuela who took office in 1999 and remained there until his death from cancer in 2013. Hugo Chavez was the son of schoolteachers, and he graduated from the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences in 1975. That led to a career in the military -- at least until he formed his own revolutionary force within the Venezuelan army and tried to overthrow President Carlos Andres Perez in 1992. He failed and was jailed, but after two years in prison, Chavez was pardoned by President Rafael Caldera and made the transition from soldier to politician. An engaging speaker and charismatic personality, he was elected to the presidency as a leftist reformer and modern-day Simón Bolívar. (His reforms were called the "Bolivarian Revolution.") After taking office on 2 February 1999, he instituted sweeping reforms that resulted in widely divided opinions of his presidency: supporters saw him as a populist leader and champion of the poor, while critics called him anti-business and neo-fascist. He shunned U.S. and European support and focused on South American and Third World solidarity. He was an economic and political supporter of Fidel Castro and a sharp-tongued critic of George W. Bush and U.S. policies. (He once called Bush "the devil" in a speech at the United Nations, saying the podium still smelled of sulfur from Bush's speech the previous day.) Hugo Chavez's presidency provided some topsy-turvy times for Venezuela: he survived a kidnapping and coup attempt in April of 2002, withstood a recall referendum in August of 2004, and battled cancer through various treatments and surgeries in his last few years. He was re-elected to another six-year term in October of 2012, but finally succumbed to cancer a few months later.
Hugo Chavez accused the United States of supporting the 2002 attempt to overthrow him and of a continuing conspiracy to remove him from power… In 2005, U.S. television evangelist Pat Robertson made headlines when he suggested that Hugo Chavez should be assassinated.