Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hugo Chavez, anti-Israel president of Venezuela and Iran ally, dies

NEW YORK (JTA) -- Hugo Chavez, the longtime president of Venezuela who spouted anti-Israel rhetoric and befriended Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has died.

Chavez, who ruled the South American country for 14 years, died Tuesday following a long battle with cancer, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro said in a televised speech. Chavez was 58.

An anti-capitalist, Chavez took office in 1999, rising to power with the massive support of the country's poor. Despite battling cancer, Chavez was reelected last year. He underwent four surgeries in Cuba, his last one on Dec. 11.

The Jewish community of Venezuela has had strained relationships with the government following a flood of attacks against Jewish houses of worship in 2009. Venezuelan police officers were among those implicated in the attacks.

Venezuela severed ties with Israel following Israel's three-week Gaza operation Cast Lead launched in December 2008, expelling the Israeli ambassador and staff.

In May 2010, following Israeli Navy clashes with a flotilla trying to evade the country's blockade that resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish activists, Chavez called Israel a "genocidal state" in a national broadcast and said the Mossad was trying to kill him.

"Israel is financing the Venezuelan opposition. There are even groups of Israeli terrorists, of the Mossad, who are after me trying to kill me," he said.

Along with befriending Ahmadinejad, Chavez also was an ally of the former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Chavez, who was anti-American, was a socialist leader who was credited with reducing poverty and expanding access to health care, food and education to Venezuela's poor while undermining the democratic country's system of checks and balances and repressing its media.

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