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Hugo Chavez, the former tank commander who turned the Venezuelan presidency into a lifetime post from which he could spew his anti-American, antisemitic venom, all the while sending Venezuelan’s oil supply to the world’s bad actors, died today after a long battle with cancer. It remains to be seen whether the Venezuelan people will end up saddled with someone even worse or whether his death will end the country’s unpleasant socialist interlude.
Chavez was born in 1954 in Sabaneta, Venezuela, the second of six sons. His father was a schoolteacher who was closely involved with Copei, the conservative Christian Democratic Party. Chavez’s mother was the more powerful figure in this poverty-stricken family, and she had a very fraught, unhappy relationship with her son. Eventually, Chavez and his older brother ended up living with their grandmother, who filled his head with stories about a distant ancestor who was the Robin Hood of the poor Barinas region in which Chavez grew up.
Another childhood inspiration for Chavez was Simon Bolivar, the 19th century patriot who helped liberate six Latin America countries, including Venezuela, from Spain. Indeed, when Chavez first became president, he changed Venezuela’s official name to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
As a child, Chavez was a gifted baseball player, and his youthful dream to play in America. In fact, he joined the Venezuelan military because an army recruiter told him it was a good pathway to Major League Baseball.
The military suited Chavez. In 1975, he graduated near the top of his class, entering a tank division. It was while he was in the army that the oil boom that had brought so much money to Venezuela went bust. Seizing upon the resulting civilian discontent, would-be revolutionaries infiltrated the Venezuelan military in the hopes of fomenting a Leftist military coup.