March 5th, 2013
06:10 PM ET

Chavez leaves a revolutionary legacy

By Mariano Castillo, CNN

(CNN) - Charismatic and combative, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez cultivated a larger-than-life appearance. But even after 13 years in office, his legacy may be more fleeting than his outsize personality suggested.

Chavez, 58, died Tuesday afternoon, according to the country's vice president. Chavez had battled cancer.

Supporters and opponents alike can name ways Venezuela has been transformed while Chavez was in office - poverty is down, crime is up, polarization has become the status quo - but the changes may not be as ingrained as they seem.

The cornerstone of Chavez's presidency was the Bolivarian Revolution, his ambitious plan to turn Venezuela into a socialist state. The most visible symbols of the revolution were the numerous social "missions" aimed at eradicating illiteracy, distributing staple foods and providing health care in all corners of the country.

Social programs were not new to Venezuela, but Chavez elevated them in scope and prominence.

"The most positive legacy that Chavez has is that he put his finger on a legitimate grievance that many Venezuelans have: social injustice," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a research and policy center in Washington. "Whoever succeeds him is going to have to deal with that question."

iReport: Send your thoughts on the death of the Venezuelan president.

Chavez was elected and re-elected in large part thanks to support from the country's poor, who felt marginalized by previous governments.

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Filed under: History • Latino in America • Where we live
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