Polarizing Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez dies of cancer

Polarizing Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez dies of cancer

Caracas : Venezuela | Mar 06, 2013 at 12:16 AM PST
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Politics in the Western Hemisphere will never be the same again.

Tuesday's death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez surely resets the oil-rich nation's treacherous political scene but also could set the stage for the rebirth of U.S. domination of South America.

Chavez frequently exhibited undisguised animosity toward the United States -- even calling former President George W. Bush "the devil" in a speech to the United Nations in 2006 -- and was openly disdainful of the U.S. economic system that built the oil infrastructure that made Venezuela rich.

Chavez, 58, died Tuesday after returning from Cuba following his fourth surgery for cancer since 2011, according to Cable News Network (CNN).

Vice President Nicolas Maduro is expected to run a caretaker government until new elections can be scheduled.

Chavez had headed Venezuela's government since 1998, when he won the first of three terms as president.

The self-proclaimed socialist was elected to a fourth term that started in January but was forced to spend most his time in Cuba for medical treatments.

Under his rule, Venezuela nationalized foreign-owned companies, distributed land to its poorest citizens and sharply increased welfare benefits.

Chavez's years as president also inspired leftist candidates to win elections and gain control of other South and Central American nations, including Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador.

But Chavez also attracted intense criticism for expanding the power of Venezuela's presidency, prosecuting his political opponents and trying to silence the press.

Chavez survived a coup attenpt in 2002 that briefly drove him from office.

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Hugo Chavez
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gives a clenched fist during a visit to Brazil in 2003. Chavez died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer.
Nathan Salant is based in San Francisco, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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