Charismatic and combative, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez cultivated a larger-than-life appearance. But even after 13 years in office, his legacy may be more fleeting than his outsize personality suggested.
Chavez, 58, died Tuesday afternoon, according to the country's vice president. Chavez had battled cancer.
Supporters and opponents alike can name ways Venezuela has been transformed while Chavez was in office -- poverty is down, crime is up, polarization has become the status quo -- but the changes may not be as ingrained as they seem.
The cornerstone of Chavez's presidency was the Bolivarian Revolution, his ambitious plan to turn Venezuela into a socialist state. The most visible symbols of the revolution were the numerous social "missions" aimed at eradicating illiteracy, distributing staple foods and providing health care in all corners of the country.
Social programs were not new to Venezuela, but Chavez elevated them in scope and prominence.
"The most positive legacy that Chavez has is that he put his finger on a legitimate grievance that many Venezuelans have: social injustice," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a research and policy center in Washington. "Whoever succeeds him is going to have to deal with that question."
Chavez was elected and re-elected in large part thanks to support from the country's poor, who felt marginalized by previous governments.
He tapped into their needs and frustrations -- often through confrontations with the Venezuelan elite -- and promised that the country's vast oil wealth would be redistributed to the poor.
According to World Bank statistics, the percentage of Venezuelans living under the poverty line declined from a peak of 62% in 2003 to 29% in 2009. In the six-year period between 2001 and 2007, illiteracy fell from 7% to 5%.
"The result is that going ahead, any future government is going to have to put this front and center," Shifter said.
This much was apparent during the last presidential contest, in which opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski criticized Chavez's missions for mismanagement but promised to fix them rather than do away with them.
In October, Venezuelans opted to give Chavez another six-year term.
"(Chavez) has definitely given an identity and feeling of self-respect to people who felt invisible and ignored," said Jennifer McCoy, director of the Americas Program at the Carter Center in Atlanta. "The lasting thing about this is, people who benefited will continue to demand participation in the political and social system."
This political awakening among the lower classes, however, does not translate into a lasting solution to poverty, analysts say.
Chavez did not create a system to make these benefits sustainable, for instance, by not investing enough in infrastructure, McCoy said.
The president's programs provided assistance without creating jobs, Shifter said.
"This is not a sustainable model," he said. "It's a lost opportunity."
Chavez also will be remembered for undermining the checks and balances in his country.
Venezuela always had a strong presidency, and Chavez further consolidated power in the executive.
As the president wielded more power, institutions such as the electoral commission and the judiciary were politicized and stacked in Chavez's favor.
Gone were the two parties that traditionally alternated power. In its place came one party, and one man.
"His presidency shattered the political universe that existed before," said Charles Shapiro, president of the Institute of the Americas and former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela during Chavez's tenure.
The government centered on Chavez, and his followers became known as chavistas.
"Too often he has been portrayed as a clownish character, but to the people who support him, he is a rock star and very capable politician," Shapiro said.
The fervor of his followers, combined with the disdain of the upper classes, created a polarization in Venezuela that runs deeper than anything blue or red in the United States. Supporters and opponents of Chavez "in many ways deny the other side that they have the right to hold their views," Shapiro said.