"The Chavez government ... expanded the number of government-run TV channels from one to six, while taking aggressive steps to reduce the availability of media outlets that engage in critical programming," the HRW report says.
Enemy of the United States, "imperialist" influences
Both critics and fans like to point out Chavez's prickly relationship with the U.S. government.
He stirred nationalistic sentiment and popularity by picking fights with the "imperialist" United States and its allies among the Venezuelan opposition, and used combative speeches to drive a wedge between the working class and the elite in his country.
Remember his devil speech at the 2006 U.N. General Assembly? In one of his most memorable insults, Chavez said of President George W. Bush: "The devil came here yesterday. Yesterday, the devil came here, right here, right here. And it smells of sulfur still today."
U.S. filmmaker Michael Moore liked his style. By Twitter, Moore reminisced that he spoke with Chavez at a Venice film festival in 2009.
"We spoke for over an hour. He said he was happy 2 finally meet someone Bush hated more than him," Moore tweeted this week.
Last year, he said the United States could be using cancer as a weapon against him.
"It's very difficult to explain, even with the law of probabilities, what has been happening to some of us in Latin America," he said in a speech to the military, according to a Bloomberg News report. "Would it be so strange that they've invented technology to spread cancer and we won't know about it for 50 years?"
Chavez the colorful
Chavez was also known for colorful, sometimes strange statements.
During a water shortage in Venezuela in 2009, he took to the airwaves to encourage Venezuelans to take showers that lasted only three minutes.
At a summit in November 2007, his repeated attempts to interrupt resulted in King Juan Carlos of Spain saying to him, "Why don't you shut up?"
In 2011, he suggested that capitalism had killed off civilization on Mars.
"I have always said, have heard, that it would not be strange that there had been civilization on Mars, but perhaps capitalism arrived there, imperialism arrived, and finished that planet," he said on state TV, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
It might have endeared him to some. But Christopher Sabatini, editor-in-chief of the policy journal Americas Quarterly, suggests Chavez had a more cynical reason to say these things.
"President Chavez cleverly avoided international criticism and oversight by angrily asserting national sovereignty, stoking anti-American suspicions and at times behaving like a buffoon. All three worked particularly well," Sabatini wrote.