Profile: Hugo Chavez
Hugo Chavez, who has endured a rough political ride since first coming to power in 1998, is the subject of both adulation and loathing both at home and abroad.
Venezuelans are split between a majority who says he speaks for the poor, and those who say he has become increasingly autocratic. Recent events have led to increasing tensions.
Among them, a controversial programme of land reform launched by Mr Chavez that allows the state to seize underused ranches without compensation.
Critics have argued that his plans violate property rights enshrined in the constitution, and have accused him of trying to emulate Cuba's communist system.
The opposition has been trying to unseat the president by constitutional means since 2002 - after a short-lived coup against him - and in 2004 it managed to secure a referendum on his leadership.
But the vote only served to strengthen Mr Chavez. He won by a large majority and insisted that he would run for another six-year term in the December 2006 elections.
Mr Chavez first came to prominence as a leader of a failed coup in 1992.
After being released from prison, he embarked on a political career that swept him to power in 1998, with a promise to root out corruption and transform Venezuela.
Born 28 July 1954 in Sabaneta, State of Barinas, the son of schoolteachers
Graduated from Military Academy in 1975
Has five children; three girls and two boys
Keen baseball player
But the former army paratrooper has proved unable to bridge the huge gap between the country's rich and poor, and 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 that 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 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.
Whenever the media reported discontent with his rule, he generally 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.
The situation hardly improved when Mr Chavez accused the US of being behind the failed coup to oust him in 2002, and of funding opposition groups.
The country's vast oil reserves - the largest in the Americas - have given it a strategic importance, but the US state department denies trying to overthrow the president.
Mr Chavez's government has implemented a number of "missions" or social programmes, including education and health services for all. But chronic poverty and unemployment are still widespread, despite the country's oil wealth.
From coup-leader to president
The ex-paratrooper's journey along the road to power has been an eventful one.
In February 1992, he led an attempt to overthrow the government of President Carlos Andres Perez amid growing anger at economic austerity measures.
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 South American independence leader, Simon Bolivar.
The February revolt by members of the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement claimed 18 lives and left 60 injured before Mr 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 their leader 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.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/05/22 08:09:30 GMT
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