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Hugo Chavez, fiery Venezuelan president, dies at 58 - Greenville, NC | News | Weather | Sports - WNCT.com

Hugo Chavez, fiery Venezuelan president, dies at 58

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CARACAS, Venezuela -

Hugo Chavez was one of Latin America's most colorful and controversial leaders.

He was Venezuela's President for more than a decade and a firm believer in socialist government. The poor saw him as their Savior. The executives who managed the country's vast oil reserves wanted him gone.

Chavez began his career at age 16, joining the army as a paratrooper. 22 years later, believing the government was corrupt, he led a military coup to unseat the president.

It failed and Chavez was thrown in jail. But years later as a politician, he campaigned to close the gap between the poor and the wealthy oil executives. In 1998, he was elected President.

Four years later, a group of military officers staged a coup and put Chavez under arrest. For two days, the newspapers announced Chavez was out. But troops loyal to Chavez staged a counter-coup, putting him back in office.

A helicopter delivered him back to the presidential palace.

Chavez believed the U.S. government secretly backed the coup and repeatedly threatened to stop supplying the U.S. with oil. As one of the most outspoken critics of the U.S., he was friends with Cuba's Fidel Castro and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  He particularly disliked President Bush.

Chavez accused the U.S. President of neglecting the poor. So in 2005, the Venezuelan president announced that Citgo, the U.S. based refining arm of his country's state run oil company would provide discounted heating oil to nearly 200,000 poor American households.

He hoped to have a better relationship with President Obama, but a year after his election, Chavez called him a "poor ignoramus."

In 2011 Chavez was diagnosed with cancer. Supporters filled the streets to pray for their leader.

He traveled to Cuba multiple times for surgery and was treated with chemotherapy. In October of 2012 he won re-election, but just two months later he needed more surgery when the cancer returned.

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