Jorge Silva/Reuters/Landov
March 05, 2013 05:25 PM

During more than 14 years in office, Venezuelan President Hugo Chévez 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.

“El Comandante,” as he was known, even stayed in touch with the Venezuelan people as his health deteriorated, sending Twitter messages and making phone calls broadcast on television.

But those messages dropped off as his health deteriorated. And on Tuesday, the fiery populist who declared a socialist revolution in Venezuela and crusaded against U.S. influence died 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 Chévez died at 4:25 p.m. local time.

A political survivor, Chévez 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.

Chévez used his country’s vast oil wealth to launch social programs that include state-run food markets, new public housing, free health clinics and education programs. Poverty declined during Chévez’s presidency amid a historic boom in oil earnings, but critics said he failed to use the windfall of hundreds of billions of dollars to develop the country’s economy.

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