He's fought for leftist revolution and he's fought cancer. President Hugo Chavez, back home Monday in muted triumph after two months in Cuba for surgery and treatment, is the man in Venezuela.
First elected in 1998 and winner of every election he's run in since then, Chavez is an indefatigable populist who's made friends and foes at home and abroad with his vision of 21st century socialism.
The former paratrooper, 58, took a blow in June 2011 when he was diagnosed with cancer. The only real detail the government has given is that it was in his pelvic region.
Chavez won a new six-year term in office last October after declaring himself cancer-free, even though he was not his usual vibrant self during the campaign. In December, he returned to Havana for his fourth round of cancer surgery.
Cuba was the ideal place for his treatment as he is old friends with Fidel and Raul Castro, and the island's communist government could be relied on to keep his condition a state secret.
When he won re-election last year, Chavez's aim was to keep governing until 2030 in the country with the world's largest proven oil reserves, pressing on with his drive to aid the poor with handouts and subsidies and keep up ties with like-minded leftist governments elsewhere in Latin America.
Along the way he has irked Venezuela's business elite, which says he makes life miserable for them with strict hard currency controls and other heavy-handed economic measures, and the United States, which he derides as an imperialist monster, by aligning Venezuela with countries like Iran and Syria.
After Chavez returned to Cuba in December for more surgery, Venezuelans -- used to his booming voice at every turn, his call-in television show and his Castro-like speeches that went for hours -- heard nothing of the sort. Not a peep.
The prolonged absence fueled conjecture over whether he would be able to stay in charge. It remained unclear Monday if Chavez's much-delayed swearing-in would now finally take place.
Born in 1954 to a pair of school teachers, Chavez -- a twice-divorced Catholic with four children -- got a first taste for socialism by drawing inspiration from Simon Bolivar, the 19th century liberator who led wars to free South America from Spain.
Chavez staged a failed coup in 1992 against then-president Carlos Andres Perez and spent two years in jail. Paradoxically, that made him very popular.
Six years later, he was elected president with 56 percent of the vote.
He has built his approval on things like health and education programs for the poor in a country that suffers from gaping inequality between haves and have-nots.
The poorest in Venezuela are crazy about the man, even if his way of running the economy does cause very high inflation and other problems like shortages of basic foodstuffs.
Critics say he uses the tools of the state and the country's oil wealth with just one goal in mind: staying in power.
Chavez is a one-man orchestra as a politician: hyperactive, charismatic and brutal with his enemies. In the same speech, he can blend passages from songs, insults and flashes of impressive erudition.
Until he got sick, he slept little and did not take vacations. This has prompted him to acknowledge he made a fundamental error by not looking after himself for years.
After an attempted coup in 2002 in which he was briefly removed from power, Chavez is said to have concluded the world can be divided into two kinds of people: friends and enemies. The latter were traitors, and in his absence the government has kept up this kind of talk.
Outside Venezuela, Chavez was a role model and bank-roller for other leftist leaders.
Chavez also struck up strategic alliances with Russia, China and Iran, besides supporting people like the late Moamer Kadhafi of Libya and Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.
But a dollar is a dollar, and Chavez has shown he's pragmatic too, never suspending oil exports to the United States even as he denounced "Yankee imperialism."