Hugo Chávez was born and raised in the state of Barinas, first in the small town of Sabaneta and finally in the state capital, Barinas. He died of cancer in 2013, at the age of 58.
Chávez is a devout Catholic, and has been his whole life–from his youth as an altar boy on his way to becoming a priest, to the President of Venezuela who declared Jesus to be "the greatest socialist in history." Socialists like Chávez aren't necessarily known for their strong religious devotion, but he's even got his atheist compatriot Fidel Castro, former president of Cuba, talking about religion. Chávez said,
I talk to [Castro] a lot about Christ each time we see each other, and he told me recently, 'Chávez, I'm Christian in the social sense.'
Since his battle with cancer began however, he's taken his devotion to God to a whole other level. About how he is confident God is looking after him during his treatment, he said,
It's like a pact with God, with Christ my Lord. I'm sure he will lay on a hand so that this treatment, which we're rigorously following, will have supreme success.
But just because Chávez is devoted to the Catholic faith doesn't mean he's devoted to the Vatican and the Catholic hierarchy. The president has denounced church leaders in his own country for favoring the rich over the poor and for criticizing his own government. He also demanded an apology from Pope Benedict XVI for denying that the Church had done harm to the indigenous people of the Americas. He said,
With all due respect your Holiness, apologize because there was a real genocide here and, if we were to deny it, we would be denying our very selves.
And the Catholic church hasn't always been too fond of Chávez either. According to some documents released through WikiLeaks, an only briefly successful US-backed coup in 2002 was backed by the archbishop of Caracas.
The Poor People's President
Chávez is an anti-imperialist Bolivarian, democratic socialist. The first two parts of that equation come from Venezuelan pro-Democracy revolutionary Simón Bolívar, and emphasizes economic self-sufficiency. The second part contains the Chávez brand of socialism, which he calls "Socialism of the 21st Century," distinguished from the Marxism of the Soviet Union and Communist China in its emphasis on participatory democracy.
Chávez has been called "the poor people's president" and supporters point to the establishment of state-run education and literacy programs, and accessible health care for the poor, which is mostly possible because of the country's rich oil resources. Critics see Chávez as a corrupt autocrat overseeing a wasteful government and a society still riddled with crime and poverty.
Chávez views North American capitalism as an evil, or as he said, "the biggest menace to our planet," to which he and his country are the antithesis. He was particularly critical of former American President George W. Bush, and when his administration expressed a willingness to improve its relationship with Chávez, the Venezuelan said,
I'm ready to talk. But if you're going to talk to the devil, you have to have strong morals because the devil has many ways to tempt you.
There's so much more to Chávez's politics, and what the world thinks of them, than I'm able to discuss in this article. If you're interested in finding out more, his Wikipedia page is a good place to start.
What do you think of Chávez? Dictator? Savior of the masses? Model Catholic? Corrupt politician? Scourge of the North American capitalism? Let us know in the comments.