Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died earlier today, according to an announcement made by Vice President Nicolas Maduro on state television. Chavez was 58. Maduro will now assume leadership of the country.
Chavez has been battling cancer since June 2011. He underwent treatment in Cuba before returning to Venezuela last month. He is survived by four children from two marriages and several grandchildren.
After becoming president of oil-rich Venezuela in 1998, Chavez led the country towards a more socialist state. He introduced public education, healthcare and commercial funding. He also funneled billions of dollars into the creation of public housing communes.
While many of these social problems helped alleviate poverty, critics note they also symbolized Chavez’s mission to promote socialism over capitalism. Under Chavez’s leadership, the Venezuelan government owned a third of the economy. Human rights activists also criticized Chavez for suppression of free speech, the rise of authoritarianism, and unmerited political arrests.
Chavez stirred up strife between Venezuela and the United States by openly criticizing U.S. foreign policy, threatening to cut off America from his country’s oil supply, and by calling President George W. Bush “the devil” during a speech at the United Nations in 2006.
Despite attempts at economic growth and wealth equality, analysts say Chavez’s lavish spending and socialist infrastructure left the country weaker and less prosperous than neighboring countries like Brazil.
"Venezuela is the fifth largest economy in Latin America,” Arturo Franco of the Center for International Development at Harvard University told BBC News. “But during the last decade, it's been the worst performer in GDP per capita growth.”