In December 2007, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez suffered his first defeat at the polls. Although still wildly popular among the working class that had propelled him to power nearly a decade earlier, voters rejected a referendum that would have enabled him to run for re-election repeatedly. Stung, Chavez turned to a close confidant, according to three former advisors: Fidel Castro. The aging Cuban leader had mentored Chavez years before the Venezuelan became president, when he was still best known for leading a failed coup. Now, deepening economic ties were making Cuba ever more reliant on oil-rich Venezuela, and Castro was eager to help Chavez stay in power, these advisors say. Castro’s advice: Ensure absolute control of the military. Easier said than done. Venezuela’s military had a history of uprisings, sometimes leading to coups of the sort that Chavez, when a lieutenant colonel in the army, had staged in 1992. A decade later, rivals waged a short-lived putsch against Chavez himself. But if Chavez took the right steps, the Cuban instructed, he could hang on as long as Castro himself had, the advisors recalled. Cuba’s military, with Castro’s brother at the helm, controlled everything from security to key sectors of the economy. Within months, the countries drew up two agreements, recently reviewed by Reuters, that gave Cuba deep access to Venezuela’s military – and wide latitude to spy on it and revamp it. The agreements, specifics of which are reported here for the first time, led to the imposing of strict surveillance
Born in Sabaneta, Venezuela, on July 28, 1954, Hugo Chávez (Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías) attended the Venezuelan military academy and served as an army officer before participating in an effort to overthrow the government in 1992, for which he was sentenced to two years in prison. Chávez became president of Venezuela in 1999. Early into his presidency, he created a new constitution for the country, which included changing its name to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
He later focused his efforts on gaining control of the state-run oil company, which stirred controversy and led to protests, strained relations with the United States and other nations, and Chávez briefly being removed from power. His actions included selling oil to Cuba and resisting efforts to stop narcotic trafficking in Colombia. In 2006, Chávez helped create the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, a socialist free-trade organization. He died on March 5, 2013, at age 58, following a long battle with cancer.