He was born on 28 July 1954 in his paternal grandmother Rosa Inéz Chávez's home, a modest three-room house located in the rural village Sabaneta, Barinas State.

In 1975, Chávez graduated from the military academy (the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences) as one of the top graduates of the year.

In 1977, Chávez's unit was transferred to Anzoátegui, where they were involved in battling the Red Flag Party.

Chávez married a working-class woman named Nancy Colmenares.

In 1977, he founded a revolutionary movement within the armed forces, in the hope that he could one day introduce a leftist government to Venezuela: the Venezuelan People's Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación del Pueblo de Venezuela, or ELPV), consisted of him and a handful of his fellow soldiers who had no immediate plans for direct action, though they knew they wanted a middle way between the right wing policies of the government and the far left position of the Red Flag.

Five years after his creation of the ELPV, Chávez went on to form a new secretive cell within the military, the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army-200 (EBR-200), later redesignated the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200).

Chávez began preparing for a military coup d'état known as Operation Zamora. The plan involved members of the military overwhelming military locations and communication installations and then establishing Rafael Caldera in power once Pérez was captured and assassinated. Chávez delayed the MBR-200 coup, initially planned for December, until the early twilight hours of 4 February 1992. On that date five army units under Chávez's command moved into urban Caracas. Despite years of planning, the coup quickly encountered trouble since Chávez commanded the loyalty of less than 10% of Venezuela's military. After numerous betrayals, defections, errors, and other unforeseen circumstances, Chávez and a small group of rebels found themselves hiding in the Military Museum, unable to communicate with other members of their team. Pérez managed to escape Miraflores Palace.Then Chávez gave himself up to the government. Fourteen soldiers were killed, and fifty soldiers and some eighty civilians injured during the ensuing violence.

While Chávez and the other senior members of the MBR-200 were in prison,his relationship with Herma Marksman broke up in July 1993.

In 1994, Rafael Caldera (1916–2009) of the centrist National Convergence Party who allegedly had knowledge of the coup was elected president and soon afterward he freed Chávez and the other imprisoned MBR-200 members, though Caldera banned them from returning to the military.

He married his 2nd wife Marisabel Rodríguez.

Chávez and his supporters founded a political party, the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR – Movimiento Quinta República) in July 1997 in order to support Chávez's candidacy in the 1998 presidential election.

At the start of the election run-up, front runner Irene Sáez was backed by one of Venezuela's two primary political parties, Copei. But Chávez's promises of widespread social and economic reforms won the trust and favor of the primarily poor and working class. By May 1998, Chávez's support had risen to 30% in polls, and by August he was registering 39%. The Voter turnout was 63%, and Chávez won the election with 56% of the vote. Academic analysis of the election showed that Chávez's support had come primarily from the country's poor and "disenchanted middle class", whose standard of living had decreased rapidly over the previous decade, while much of the middle and upper class vote went to Römer. And Chávez's presidential inauguration took place 2 February 1999.

Beginning 27 February 1999, the tenth anniversary of the Caracazo massacre, Chávez set into motion a social welfare program called Plan Bolívar 2000. He said he had allotted $20.8 million for the plan, though some say that the program cost $113 million. The plan involved 70,000 soldiers, sailors and members of the air force repairing roads and hospitals, removing stagnant water that offered breeding areas for disease-carrying mosquitoes, offering free medical care and vaccinations, and selling food at low prices.

Chávez called a public referendum, which he hoped would support his plans to form a constituent assembly of representatives from across Venezuela and from indigenous tribal groups to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution. Chávez said he had to run again; "Venezuela's socialist revolution was like an unfinished painting and he was the artist", he said, while someone else "could have another vision, start to alter the contours of the painting". The momentum of the support he received in previous elections, made the referendum on 25 April 1999 a success for Chávez; 88% of the voters supported his proposal.

Chávez called an election on 25 July to elect the members of the constituent assembly. Over 900 of the 1,171 candidates standing for election that July were Chávez opponents. Despite the many opposition candidates, Chávez supporters won another overwhelming electoral victory. His supporters took 95% of the seats, 125 in all, including all of the seats assigned to indigenous groups. The opposition won only six seats. The constituent assembly, filled with supporters of Chávez, began to draft a constitution that made censorship easier and granted the executive branch more power.

The Chávez supporting constituent assembly then put together a new constitution. The referendum in December 1999 on whether to adopt it saw a low turnout with an abstention vote of over 50%. However 72% of those who did vote approved the new constitution's adoption. The constitution included progressive language on environmental and indigenous protections, socioeconomic guarantees and state benefits, but also gave greater powers to Chávez.

Under the new constitution, it was legally required that new elections be held in order to re-legitimize the government and president. This presidential election in July 2000 would be a part of a greater "megaelection", the first time in the country's history that the president, governors, national and regional congressmen, mayors and councilmen would be voted for on the same day. Going into the elections, Chávez had control of all three branches of government. For the position of president, Chávez's closest challenger proved to be his former friend and co-conspirator in the 1992 coup, Francisco Arias Cárdenas, who since becoming governor of Zulia state had turned towards the political centre and begun to denounce Chávez as autocratic. Although some of his supporters feared that he had alienated those in the middle class and the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy who had formerly supported him, Chávez was re-elected with 60% of the vote (the equivalent of 3,757,000 people), a larger majority than his 1998 electoral victory, again primarily receiving his support from the poorer sectors of Venezuelan society.

The first organized protest against the Bolivarian government occurred in January 2001, when the Chávez administration tried to implement educational reforms through the proposed Resolution 259 and Decree 1.011, which would have seen the publication of textbooks with a heavy Bolivarian bias. Parents noticed that such textbooks were really Cuban books filled with revolutionary propaganda outfitted with different covers. The protest movement, which was primarily by middle class parents whose children went to privately run schools, marched to central Caracas shouting out the slogan Con mis hijos no te metas ("Don't mess with my children"). Although the protesters were denounced by Chávez, who called them "selfish and individualistic", the protest was successful enough for the government to retract the proposed education reforms and instead enter into a consensus-based educational program with the opposition.

On 11 April 2002, during a march headed to the presidential palace, nineteen people were killed, and over 110 were wounded.

During The Events of April 2002, Chávez believed that the best way to stay in power was to implement Plan Ávila. Military officers, including General Raúl Baduel, a founder of Chávez's MBR-200, then decided that they had to pull support from Chávez to deter a massacre and shortly after at 8:00 pm, Vásquez Velasco, together with other ranking army officers, declared that Chávez had lost his support. Chávez agreed to be detained and was transferred by army escort to La Orchila; business leader Pedro Carmona declared himself president of an interim government. Carmona abolished the 1999 constitution and appointed a governing committee.

Protests in support of Chávez along with insufficient support for Carmona's government quickly led to Carmona's resignation, and Chávez was returned to power on 14 April.

In June 2000 he separated from his wife Marisabel, and their divorce was finalized in January 2004.

In the presidential election of December 2006, which saw a 74% voter turnout, Chávez was once more elected, this time with 63% of the vote, beating his closest challenger Manuel Rosales, who conceded his loss. The election was certified as being free and legitimate by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center. After this victory, Chávez promised an "expansion of the revolution".

On 15 December 2006, Chávez publicly announced that those leftist political parties who had continually supported him in the Patriotic Pole would unite into one single, much larger party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, PSUV). In the speech which he gave announcing the PSUV's creation, Chávez declared that the old parties must "forget their own structures, party colours and slogans, because they are not the most important thing for the fatherland".

On 28 December 2006, President Chávez announced that the government would not renew RCTV's broadcast license which expired on 27 May 2007, thereby forcing the channel to cease operations on that day.

On 17 May 2007, the government rejected a plea made by RCTV to stop the TV station's forced shutdown.

Under the 1999 constitution, he could not legally stand for re-election again, and so brought about a referendum on 15 February 2009 to abolish the two-term limit for all public offices, including the presidency. Approximately 70% of the Venezuelan electorate voted, and they approved this alteration to the constitution with over 54% in favor, allowing any elected official the chance to try to run indefinitely.

In June 2011, Chávez revealed in a televised address from Havana, Cuba, that he was recovering from an operation to remove an abscessed tumor with cancerous cells. Vice President Elías Jaua declared that the president remained in "full exercise" of power and that there was no need to transfer power due to his absence from the country.

On 9 July 2012, Chávez declared himself fully recovered from cancer just three months before the 2012 Venezuelan presidential election, which he won, securing a fourth term as president.

On 7 October 2012, Chávez won election as president for a fourth time, his third six-year term. He defeated Henrique Capriles with 54% of the votes versus 45% for Capriles, which was a lower victory margin than in his previous presidential wins. Turnout in the election was 80%, with a hotly contested election between the two candidates. There was significant support for Chávez amongst the Venezuelan lower class. Chávez's opposition blamed him for unfairly using state funds to spread largesse before the election to bolster Chavez's support among his primary electoral base, the lower class.

On 18 February 2013, Chávez returned to Venezuela after two months of cancer treatment in Cuba.

On 5 March 2013, Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced on state television that Chávez had died in a military hospital in Caracas at 16:25 VET (20:55 UTC).