In an enormous, varied and colourful life, Hugo Chavez was a product of poverty in Venezuela, which like many young people in Latin America led him into the armed forces and a growing sense of anger at the social injustice of a resource-rich but unequal country, bringing him into politics.
Despite the failure of a 1992 coup attempt and his subsequent imprisonment he became phenomenally popular, was elected president, re-elected three times, brought in a new constitution, improved the lives of the very poorest in his country, and forged a very special place on the world stage for Venezuela.
There are two things that stand out.
The Alba pact between Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador and other countries in the region was a polar opposite of the US free-market economics that has traditionally been imposed on the poorest people in Latin America.
This process allowed Venezuelan oil to support poor neighbouring economies and in return, among other things, Cuban medical help brought health care for the first time to millions.
The only condition of this process was that each country had to reduce inequality and conquer poverty - a far cry from the economics of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank's imposition of structural adjustment programmes across the continent.
But beyond economics Chavez understood, as few other American leaders have, the bitter history of oppression of indigenous cultures and languages throughout Latin America.
It was no accident that the one gift he gave to US President Barack Obama was a copy of Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano.
Chavez articulated the pain of the cultural oppression by the Spanish conquistadors and the landowners and multinational corporations. This change in the cultural politics of the whole continent will survive.
Chavez became a huge figure on the world stage because he was the polar opposite of everything that, in particular, the two Bush administrations wanted for Latin America.
He forged alliances to try to bring about a different narrative in world politics, something that is not easy to do. He was often unfairly criticised as being some kind of dictator.
It is a strange dictator that tolerates a mass media that is in permanent opposition, a wealthy elite who regularly condemn him, and an independent judicial system.
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