President Hugo Chavez, the fiery populist who declared a socialist revolution in Venezuela, crusaded against US influence, and championed a leftist revival across Latin America, died today at age 58 after a nearly two-year bout with cancer. Vice President Nicolas Maduro, surrounded by other government officials, announced the death in a national television broadcast. He said Chavez died at 4:25pm local time. During more than 14 years in office, Chavez routinely challenged the status quo at home and internationally. He polarized Venezuelans with his confrontational and domineering style, yet was also a masterful communicator and strategist who tapped into Venezuelan nationalism to win broad support, particularly among the poor.
Chavez repeatedly proved himself a political survivor. As an army paratroop commander, he led a failed coup in 1992, then was pardoned and elected president in 1998. He survived a coup against his own presidency in 2002 and won re-election two more times. The burly president electrified crowds with his booming voice, often wearing the bright red of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela or the fatigues and red beret of his army days. Before his struggle with cancer, he appeared on television almost daily, talking for hours at a time and often breaking into song of philosophical discourse. VP Maduro made the announcement hours after Venezuela expelled two US military attaches and accused them of trying to destabilize the government; he also claimed that Chavez had been poisoned.