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Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 21:30 GMT
Profile: Hugo Chavez
Hugo Chavez, wearing paratrooper's beret, speaks on national TV on 9 April
Chavez has kept his military image while in office
Hugo Chavez has seen his fortunes swing dramatically from success to failure and back again since his landslide victory in Venezuela's 1998 presidential election.

Only last July, the leftist leader's supporters were out celebrating his re-election in the streets of Caracas, but by April 2002 the whole country was embroiled in a general strike.

What my rivals don't understand... is that Hugo Chavez is not Chavez but the people of Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

This admirer of Fidel Castro's Cuba and avowed anti-globalist was pushed from office on 12 April - as a result of his attempts to take control of the world's fifth-biggest oil industry.

But just two days later, after his supporters - mainly Venezuela's poor - took the streets, he was back in the presidential palace.

Eight months on, Mr Chavez is facing his fourth national strike this year - one that is threatening to severely disrupt the country's economy.

Revolutionary promises

The former army paratrooper burst back on to the political scene in 1998, promising to transform Venezuela.

But as Mr Chavez proved unable to bridge the huge gap between the country's rich and poor, his combative rhetoric alienated and alarmed the country's traditional business and political elite.

When Mr Chavez came to power, the old Venezuelan order was falling apart.

Unlike most of its neighbours, Venezuela had enjoyed an unbroken period of democratic government since 1958, but the two main parties which had alternated in power stood accused of presiding over a corrupt system and squandering the country's vast oil wealth.

Hugo Chavez promised "revolutionary" social policies, and constantly abused the "predatory oligarchs" of the establishment as corrupt servants of international capital.

The great provocateur

This populist leader, who never missed an opportunity to address the nation, once described oil executives as living in "luxury chalets where they perform orgies, drinking whisky".

Church leaders in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country fared no better. "They do not walk in... the path of Christ," said Mr Chavez at one stage.

Fidel Castro (left) meets Hugo Chavez in Caracas, October 2000
Chavez and Castro both oppose US domination
Whenever the media reported discontent with his rule, he accused it of being in the pay of reactionaries.

He courted controversy in foreign policy, too, making high-profile visits to Cuba and Iraq, while allegedly flirting with leftist rebels in Colombia and making a huge territorial claim on Guyana.

Relations with Washington reached a new low when he accused it of "fighting terror with terror" during the war in Afghanistan after 11 September.

But Mr Chavez's "revolution" had little real impact on the lives of ordinary Venezuelans, who still suffer from chronic poverty and widespread unemployment despite the country's oil wealth.

His popularity rating had fallen from a high of 80% to 30% last December, when the first mass street protests erupted.

But, as his dramatic return to power showed, Mr Chavez still commanded much grass-roots support.

From coup-leader to president

The ex-paratrooper's journey along the road to power has been an eventful one.

Mr Chavez first came to prominence in February 1992 when he led an attempt to overthrow the government of President Carlos Andres Perez amid growing anger at economic austerity measures.

Hugo Chavez
Born 28 July 1954 in Sabaneta, State of Barinas, the son of schoolteachers
Graduated from Military Academy with a degree in engineering in 1975
Has five children, three girls and two boys
Keen baseball player

But the foundations for that failed coup had been laid a decade earlier, when Mr Chavez and a group of fellow military officers founded a secret movement named after the father of South American independence leader, Simon Bolivar.

The February revolt by members of the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement claimed 18 lives and left 60 injured before Colonel Chavez gave himself up.

He was languishing in a military jail when his associates tried again to seize power nine months later.

That second coup attempt in November 1992 was crushed as well, but only after the rebels had captured a TV station and broadcast a videotape of Colonel Chavez announcing the fall of the government.

Mr Chavez spent two years in prison before being granted a pardon.

He then relaunched his party as the Movement of the Fifth Republic and made the transition from soldier to politician.


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12 Apr 02 | Americas
17 Mar 02 | Americas
10 Aug 00 | Middle East
30 Oct 00 | Americas
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