Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is dead at the age of 58, Vice President Nicolas Maduro confirmed Tuesday. Already in delicate condition after undergoing cancer surgery in December, took a turn for the worse Monday when he began suffering from “a new, severe infection.” Maduro called in the nation’s top leaders Tuesday and announced on national television that a U.S. Embassy attaché, Col. David Delmonaco, was being expelled for “spying” on Venezuela’s military and planning to destabilize the country. The expulsion of a second U.S. Air Force attaché was announced by Foreign Minister Elias Jaua on Tuesday.
During more than 14 years in office, his leftist politics and grandiose style polarized Venezuelans. The barrel-chested leader electrified crowds with his booming voice, and won admiration among the poor with government social programs and a folksy, nationalistic style.
His opponents seethed at the larger-than-life character who demonized them on television and ordered the expropriation of farms and businesses. Many in the middle class cringed at his bombast and complained about rising crime, soaring inflation and government economic controls.
Chavez used his country's vast oil wealth to launch social programs that included 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.
In the battles waged at home and abroad, Chavez captivated his base by championing his country's poor.
"This is the path: the hard, long path, filled with doubts, filled with errors, filled with bitterness, but this is the path," Chavez told his backers in 2011. "The path is this: socialism."
Chavez named Vice President Nicolas Maduro as his chosen successor just three days before his final surgery.