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“We came to know a man who expressed a vision to bring profound changes to his country to benefit especially those people who had felt neglected and marginalized. Although we have not agreed with all of the methods followed by his government, we have never doubted Hugo Chavez’s commitment to improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen,” Mr. Carter said in a statement.

However, Chavez’s Castro-like speeches condemning “U.S. imperialism” garnered the most attention in the English-language media, and conservatives regarded him as a virulently anti-American dictator.

“Hugo Chavez was a tyrant who forced the people of Venezuela to live in fear. His death dents the alliance of anti-U.S. leftist leaders in South America. Good riddance to this dictator,” said Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Chavez’s antipathy toward the United States appeared to reach its high point in September 2006, when he addressed the U.N. General Assembly and called President Bush “the devil” bent on preserving “domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world.”

What most observers missed was the effectiveness with which such histrionics served to boost Chavez’s popularity in Venezuela, where he spent years crafting a careful narrative in which he existed as the hero, standing up to a mythical bully in the neighborhood.

During Venezuela’s 2006 election campaign, mountains ringing the capital city of Caracas were saturated with political signs that read: “Vote Against The Devil. Vote Against Imperialism. Vote for Chavez.”

Chavez was a master of tapping into the subculture of his supporters in vast low-income neighborhoods peppering those mountains. For years, he maintained a personal troupe of hip-hop performers, whose songs filled the air for hours at pro-Chavez rallies.

Chavez, surrounded by scantily clad women dancing to the beat, eventually would appear atop a tall flatbed truck working its way slowly through the beer-soaked crowds. A favorite pastime at such rallies — and one that likely will play out as his supporters mourn — involved a street theater rendition of a Venezuelan folk tale known as “Florentino and the Devil.”

The story follows Florentino, a young man who challenges the devil to a nighttime duel of singing. In the end, Florentino wins by singing until dawn because the devil has to flee the sunlight.