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Hugo Chavez dies of cancer at 58

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Hugo Chavez, dead at 58 (AP photo) Hugo Chavez, dead at 58 (AP photo)

CARACAS, Venezuela (ABC) - Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's fiery and controversial socialist president who came to power on wave of popular sentiment and befriended some of the world's most nefarious dictators, has died at the age of 58, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro said today.

Chavez had been fighting cancer, recently seeking treatment at a clinic in Cuba.

A self-described champion of the poor who first tried to overturn Venezuela's powerful elites in a failed 1992 coup, Chavez was democratically elected in 1999, with huge support from the country's poor.

During his time in office, he became one of Latin America's most well-known and polarizing figures. A constant thorn in the side of the United States, he commanded headlines in newspapers around the world. A populist who suppressed free speech, he remained immensely popular among his country's poor.

From the time he won election in 1999, Chavez held onto power through tightly controlling the media and through a series of populist elections and referenda, including one that allowed him to seek a limitless number of terms.

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