In December 2007, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez suffered his first defeat at the polls. Although still wildly popular among the working class that had propelled him to power nearly a decade earlier, voters rejected a referendum that would have enabled him to run for re-election repeatedly.

Stung, Chávez turned to a close confidant, according to three former advisors: Fidel Castro. The aging Cuban leader had mentored Chávez years before the Venezuelan became president, when he was still best known for leading a failed coup.

Now, deepening economic ties were making Cuba ever more reliant on oil-rich Venezuela, and Castro was eager to help Chávez stay in power, these advisors say. Castro’s advice: Ensure absolute control of the military.

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