Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was adored by many of the nation’s poor, whose votes he won with the socialist programs of his Bolivarian Revolution, and despised by much of the middle class for presiding over a withering economy amid a sea of oil. Since acknowledging a serious illness in the summer of 2011, the cancer-stricken 58-year-old former tank commander has said little more about it, but his health has rapidly declined. In October, Chavez was elected for a fourth time, and his election was upheld by the courts despite his own absence from the inauguration. Last month, Guatemalan Nobel prize winner Rigoberta Menchu said in a national broadcast that she had been in contact with Chavez’s spirit, and that the president's ancestors were guarding him. Earlier this month, the government devalued its currency, the bolivar.
Left, in this 1994 file photo, Army Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez, who headed an attempted coup in 1992, talks to reporters after being released from jail.