The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

March 5, 2013

Hugo Chavez, fiery Venezuelan leader, dies at 58

(Continued)

While Chavez trumpeted plans for communes and an egalitarian society, his rhetoric regularly conflicted with reality. Despite government seizures of companies and farmland, the balance between Venezuela's public and private sectors changed little during his presidency. And even as the poor saw their incomes rise, those gains were blunted while the country's currency weakened amid the economic controls he imposed.

Nonetheless, Chavez maintained a core of supporters who stayed loyal to their "comandante" until the end.

"Chavez masterfully exploits the disenchantment of people who feel excluded ... and he feeds on controversy whenever he can," Cristina Marcano and Alberto Barrera Tyszka wrote in their book "Hugo Chavez: The Definitive Biography of Venezuela's Controversial President."

Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias was born on July 28, 1954, in the rural town of Sabaneta in Venezuela's western plains. He was the son of a schoolteacher father and was the second of six brothers. His mother was also a schoolteacher who met her husband at age 16.

Hugo and his older brother Adan grew up with their grandmother, Rosa Ines, in a home with a dirt floor, mud walls and a roof made of palm fronds.

Chavez was a fine baseball player and hoped he might one day pitch in the U.S. major leagues. When he joined the military at age 17, he aimed to keep honing his baseball skills in the capital.

But between his army duties and drills, the young soldier immersed himself in the history of Bolivar and other Venezuelan heroes who had overthrown Spanish rule, and his political ideas began to take shape.

Chavez burst into public view in 1992 as a paratroop commander leading a military rebellion that brought tanks to the presidential palace. The coup collapsed and the plotters were imprisoned.

When Chavez was allowed to speak on television, he said his movement had only failed "for now." Chavez's short speech, and especially those two defiant words, seared him into the memory of Venezuelans and became a springboard for his career.

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