Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela
July 28, 1954 - March 5, 2013
Hugo Chávez, the nationalistic and theatrical president of Venezuela from 1999 until his death, rose from poverty to become an immensely popular leader in his native country, especially among poor Venezuelans, and a sharply polarizing figure on the world stage. The bête noire of the U.S. and other Western powers -- "The U.S. government is a threat to us and to the whole world," Chávez told Fortune in 2005 -- Chávez preached against what he saw as the evils of capitalism and America's "hegemonic pretensions" and refashioned Venezuela to conform to his socialist vision, nationalizing the assets of oil companies like Exxon Mobil (Fortune 500), raising taxes on Big Oil and foreign businesses to support wealth redistribution programs and health care services in Venezuela's slums, subsidizing allies like Cuba, and consolidating his power through constitutional reforms. ,
Chávez died in Caracas at age 58 after battling cancer.