Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈuɣo rafaˈel ˈtʃaβes ˈfɾi.as]; 28 July 1954 – 5 March 2013) was a Venezuelan politician and the President of Venezuela from 1999 until his death in 2013. He was the leader of the Fifth Republic Movement from its foundation in 1997 until 2007, when it merged with several other parties to form the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which he led until 2012.
Following Chavismo, his own political ideology of Bolivarianism and Socialism of the 21st Century, he focused on implementing social reforms in the country as a part of a social project known as the Bolivarian Revolution. He implemented the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, participatory democratic councils, the nationalization of several key industries, and increased government funding of health care and education and made significant reductions in poverty with oil revenues. According to the ECLAC, from 1999 to 2012, Venezuela achieved the second highest rate of poverty reduction in the region; with World Bank data showing that the poverty rate dropped from 49.4% to 25.6%. The Bolivarian Missions have entailed the construction of thousands of free medical clinics for the poor, the institution of educational campaigns that have made about 1.5 million adult Venezuelans literate (although this claim has been subject of scholarly debate), and the enactment of food and housing subsidies.
Born into a working-class family in Sabaneta, Barinas, Chávez became a career military officer, and after becoming dissatisfied with the Venezuelan political system, he founded the secretive Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200) in the early 1980s to work towards overthrowing the government. Chávez led the MBR-200 in an unsuccessful coup d'état against the Democratic Action government of President Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992, for which he was imprisoned. Released from prison after two years, he founded a socialist political party, the Fifth Republic Movement, and was elected president of Venezuela in 1998. He was re-elected in 2000. During his second presidential term, he introduced the system of Bolivarian Missions, Communal Councils, and worker-managed cooperatives, as well as a program of land reform, while also nationalizing various key industries. He was re-elected in 2006 with over 60% of the vote. After winning his fourth term as president in the October 2012 presidential election, defeating Henrique Capriles, he was to have been sworn in on 10 January 2013, but the National Assembly of Venezuela agreed to postpone the inauguration to allow him time to recover from medical treatment in Cuba, resulting from a return of the cancer that was originally diagnosed in June 2011. Chávez died in Caracas on 5 March 2013 at the age of 58.
Internationally, Chávez aligned himself with the Marxist-Leninist governments of Fidel and then Raúl Castro in Cuba and the socialist governments of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, his presidency was seen as a part of the socialist "pink tide" sweeping Latin America. Along with these governments, Chávez described his policies as anti-imperialist, being a prominent adversary of the United States's foreign policy as well as a vocal critic of US-supported neoliberalism and laissez-faire capitalism. He compared US president George W. Bush to a donkey and the devil. He has described himself as a Marxist. He supported Latin American and Caribbean cooperation and was instrumental in setting up the pan-regional Union of South American Nations, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, the Bank of the South, and the regional television network TeleSur.
Some of the government's food subsidies enacted under Chávez resulted in shortages since the low profits could not sustain paying for food imports. After price controls were put into place, food shortages had rates between about 10% and 25%. Large purchases of food and lower reserves also contributed to dollar shortages that Venezuela suffered in the future. Venezuela's murder rate largely increased during Chávez's presidency. Chavez later responded to this problem by raising the pay for police officers, as well as launching a new national force that was still criticized for its corruption and its involvement in kidnapping years later. Chávez's government was accused of being corrupt by multiple sources in various ways. Chávez used habilitating laws, which allowed him to perform functions normally reserved to the Venezuelan Congress, on four occasions: starting in 1999 for 6 months, in 2000 for 12, in 2007 for 18 and in 2010 for 12 months. The use of such habilitating laws was heavily criticized by the opposition. Chávez was accused by multiple sources of using propaganda to influence Venezuelans to support the Bolivarian Revolution and other ideologies.