Profile: Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez on the campaign trail in Barquisimeto on 2 October 2012 President Chavez says his battle with cancer is behind him

Hugo Chavez, who won another six-year term as Venezuela's president in October 2012, is one of the most visible, vocal and controversial leaders in Latin America.

The former army paratrooper first came to prominence as a leader of a failed coup in 1992.

Six years later, he caused a seismic shift in Venezuelan politics, riding a wave of popular outrage at the traditional political elite to win the presidency.

Since then, Mr Chavez has won a series of elections and referendums, including one in 2009 which abolished term limits for all elected officials, including the president.

President Chavez argues that he needs more time for Venezuela's socialist revolution to take root.

His supporters say he speaks for the poor; his critics say he has become increasingly autocratic.

HUGO CHAVEZ

  • Born 28 July 1954 in Sabaneta, Barinas state, the son of schoolteachers
  • Graduated from military academy in 1975
  • Has four children
  • Keen baseball player

In May 2012, Mr Chavez said he had recovered from an unspecified cancer, after undergoing surgery and chemotherapy in 2011 and a further operation in February 2012.

However, in December 2012, he announced he needed further cancer surgery in Cuba, and named his Vice-President, Nicolas Maduro, as his preferred successor should the need arise.

Since then he has struggled to recover and remained out of public view, finally returning to Venezuela in February.

In February 1992, Mr Chavez led a doomed attempt to overthrow the government of President Carlos Andres Perez amid growing anger at economic austerity measures.

The foundations for that failed coup had been laid a decade earlier, when Mr Chavez and a group of fellow military officers founded a secret movement named after the South American independence leader Simon Bolivar.

The 1992 revolt by members of the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement claimed 18 lives and left 60 injured before Mr Chavez gave himself up.

Hugo Chavez and Cuba's former president Fidel Castro in file photo from November 2010 Hugo Chavez is a close ally of Cuba's Fidel and Raul Castro

He was languishing in a military jail when his associates tried again to seize power nine months later.

That second coup attempt, in November 1992, was crushed as well.

Mr Chavez spent two years in prison before being granted a pardon. He then relaunched his party as the Movement of the Fifth Republic and made the transition from soldier to politician.

By the time Mr Chavez was swept into power in the 1998 elections, the old Venezuelan order was falling apart.

Unlike most of its neighbours, the country had enjoyed an unbroken period of democratic government since 1958.

But the two main parties that had alternated in power stood accused of presiding over a corrupt system and squandering the country's vast oil wealth.

Mr Chavez promised "revolutionary" social policies, and constantly abused the "predatory oligarchs" of the establishment as corrupt servants of international capital.

Hello Mr President

Hugo Chavez: Key dates

  • Feb 1999: Takes office after winning 1998 election
  • July 2000: Re-elected under new constitution for a six-year term
  • April 2002: Abortive coup. Chavez returns to power after two days
  • Aug 2004: Wins recall referendum on whether he should serve out rest of his term
  • Dec 2006: Wins another six-year term with 63%
  • Dec 2007: Loses constitutional referendum which included proposal to allow the president to run indefinitely for office
  • Feb 2009: Wins referendum that lifts term limits on elected officials
  • Sep 2010: Chavez party wins majority in National Assembly elections but opposition gets some 40% of seats
  • June 2011: Reveals he is being treated for cancer
  • February 2012: Undergoes further operation in Cuba
  • October 2012: Re-elected for further six-year term

Never missing an opportunity to address the nation, he once described oil executives as living in "luxury chalets where they perform orgies, drinking whisky".

Mr Chavez has also frequently clashed with church leaders, whom he accuses of neglecting the poor, siding with the opposition, and defending the rich.

"They do not walk in... the path of Christ," said Mr Chavez at one stage.

Relations with Washington reached a new low when he accused the Bush administration of "fighting terror with terror" during the war in Afghanistan after 11 September 2001.

Mr Chavez accused the US of being behind a short-lived coup that saw him removed from office for a couple of days in 2002.

He survived this episode and emerged strengthened two years later in a referendum on his leadership. He then went on to victory in the 2006 presidential election.

Mr Chavez's government has implemented a number of "missions" or social programmes, including education and health services for all. But poverty and unemployment are still widespread, despite the country's oil wealth.

Mr Chavez is renowned for his flamboyant public speaking style, which he has put to use in his weekly live TV programme, Alo Presidente (Hello President), in which he talks about his political ideas, interviews guests and sings and dances.

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