Yesterday evening news broke that President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela died at the age of 59-years-old after a nearly two-year bout with cancer. Chavez lead the socialist revolution in Venezuela , crusaded against U.S. influence and championed a leftist revival across Latin America.
During more than 14 years in office, Chavez 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.
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.
Despite his controversial and questionable politics, Chavez 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.
Chavez was also inspired by ruthless Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and took on the aging revolutionary’s role as Washington’s chief antagonist in the Western Hemisphere after Castro relinquished the presidency to his brother Raul in 2006.
Supporters saw Chavez as the latest in a colorful line of revolutionary legends, from Castro to the murderous Argentine-born Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Chavez nurtured that cult of personality, and even as he stayed out of sight for long stretches fighting cancer, his out-sized image appeared on buildings and billboard throughout Venezuela. The airwaves boomed with his baritone mantra: “I am a nation.” Supporters carried posters and wore masks of his eyes, chanting, “I am Chavez.”
“A revolution has arrived here,” he declared in a 2009 speech. “No one can stop this revolution.”
He ordered the sword of South American independence leader Simon Bolivar removed from Argentina’s Central Bank to unsheathe at key moments. On television, he would lambast his opponents as “oligarchs,” announce expropriations of companies and lecture Venezuelans about the glories of socialism. His performances included renditions of folk songs and impromptu odes to Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong and 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
Chavez carried his in-your-face style to the world stage as well. In a 2006 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, he called President George W. Bush the devil, saying the podium reeked of sulfur after Bush’s address.
Critics saw Chavez as a typical Latin American caudillo, a strongman who ruled through force of personality and showed disdain for democratic rules. Chavez concentrated power in his hands with allies who dominated the congress and justices who controlled the Supreme Court.
He insisted all the while that Venezuela remained a vibrant democracy and denied trying to restrict free speech. But some of his opponents faced criminal charges and were driven into exile.
While the brain trusts that are Michael Moore, Jimmy Carter, Oliver Stone, and Sean Penn were saddened to hear of Chavez’s death…Glenn, Pat, and Stu had a “slightly” different reaction.
Watch the hilarious mocking above, and stayed tuned for Friday’s special live-coverage of the “celebration” of Chavez’s life.