CARACAS, Venezuela —
Despite the souring relationship, Chavez kept selling the bulk of Venezuela’s oil to the United States.
By 2005, Chavez was espousing a new, vaguely defined “21st-century socialism.” Yet the agenda didn’t involve a sudden overhaul to the country’s economic order, and some businesspeople continued to prosper. Those with lucrative ties to the government came to be known as the “Bolivarian bourgeoisie.”
After easily winning re-election in 2006, Chavez began calling for a “multi-polar world” free of U.S. domination, part of an expanded international agenda. He boosted oil shipments to China, set up joint factories with Iran to produce tractors and cars, and sealed arms deals with Russia for assault rifles, helicopters and fighter jets. He focused on building alliances throughout Latin America and injected new energy into the region’s left. Allies were elected in Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and other countries.
Chavez also cemented relationships with island countries in the Caribbean by selling them oil on preferential terms while severing ties with Israel, supporting the Palestinian cause and backing Iran’s right to a nuclear energy program.
All the while, Chavez emphasized that it was necessary to prepare for any potential conflict with the “empire,” his term for the United States.
He told the AP in 2007 that he loved the movie “Gladiator.”
“It’s confronting the empire, and confronting evil. ... And you end up relating to that gladiator,” Chavez said as he drove across Venezuela’s southern plains.
He said he felt a deep connection to those plains where he grew up, and that when died he hoped to be buried in the savanna.
“A man from the plains, from these great open spaces ... tends to be a nomad, tends not to see barriers. You don’t see barriers from childhood on. What you see is the horizon,” Chavez said.