March 5 - Venezuela's charismatic and controversial president Hugo Chavez dies at age 58 after a several year battle with cancer. Deborah Gembara reports.
He's one of the most compelling leaders of the 21rst century. Charismatic and controversial, Venezuelans voted him president four times. Hugo Chavez burst onto the national stage as a paratrooper who led a daring coup against then president President Carlos Perez. The coup was a failure and he spent time in prison, Chavez rose to assume Venezuela's highest office in 1998. It would be a first glimpse at the resilience that would become one of his most defining characteristics. demonstrating the sort of resilience that would be a recurring theme throughout his life. Politically, he was a socialist. In office, he nationalized major sections of the economy. While his critics accused of him of squandering the country's oil related wealth. His populist message resonated with many of the country's poor. Their loyalty to him would play a critical role when he was overthrown by a coup during his first term. Within 48 hours, his supporters and his former soldiers swept him back into office. He credits Cuban president Fidel Castro, a close friend and mentor with influencing his views and leadership style. Chavez's circle also included Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - like Chavez, all fierce critics of the United States. He could be contentious --- like when he addressed the United Nation's General Assembly several years ago. SOUNDBITE: Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan president, saying (Spanish): "Yesterday, the devil was here Right here. It still smells of sulphur-- this podium from where I'm speaking. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this same place, the President of the United States-- who I call the devil-- came here speaking as the owner of the world." When he announced in 2011 that he had cancer, Venezuelans held rallies and prayer services. He made several extended trips to Havana for treatment claiming on at least two occasions that he had beaten the disease. He was as always determined, perhaps even defiant. SOUNDBITE: Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan president, saying (Spanish): "They're thinking that Chavez is through. Chavez is not through. What's more and what I'd better tell you, when this body really gives out, Chavez will not be through, because I am no longer Chavez. Chavez is in the streets and has become the people, and has become a national essence, more than a feeling, a national body." In his last year, Venenzuelans also saw a different, more vulnerable side of him. At one mass, he begged God to spare his life. SOUNDBITE: Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan president, saying (Spanish): Give me your cross, a hundred crosses-- I'll carry them, but give me life because I have things left to do for these people and this fatherland. Don't take me yet." Despite his illness, Chavez barreled ahead and won his final election in October. SOUNDBITE: Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan president, saying (Spanish): "I will never stop serving the Venezuelan people. Never. Until the day I die." Hugo Chavez led Venezuela for 14 years. He was 58 years old.