Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Dead at 58

Venezuela’s controversial and colorful President Hugo Chavez is now dead:

Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s fiery and controversial socialist president who came to power on wave of popular sentiment and befriended some of the world’s most nefarious dictators, has died at the age of 58, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro said today.

Chavev had been fighting cancer, recently seeking treatment at a clinic in Cuba.

A self-described champion of the poor who first tried to overturn Venezuela’s powerful elites in a failed 1992 coup, Chavez was democratically elected in 1999, with huge support from the country’s poor.

During his time in office, he became one of Latin America’s most well-known and polarizing figures. A constant thorn in the side of the United States, he commanded headlines in newspapers around the world. A populist who suppressed free speech, he remained immensely popular among his country’s poor.

From the time he won election in 1999, Chavez held onto power through tightly controlling the media and through a series of populist elections and referenda, including one that allowed him to seek a limitless number of terms.

Chavez, whose public appearances diminished in months received his first surgery and chemotherapy treatment for cancer in Cuba in 2011.

And the official line is: Chavez’s opponents including the United States caused his cancer. AFP:

VENEZUELA has accused its enemies of causing ailing President Hugo Chavez’s cancer and expelled two US military officers for plotting against his government.

Caracas lashed out against the opposition and the United States after announcing that Chavez had taken a turn for the worse and was struggling to breathe after contracting a new and severe infection.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro confirmed that the firebrand leader was facing “complications” and he warned that Venezuela was living its “most difficult hours” since Chavez underwent cancer surgery on December 11.

After holding a meeting with the country’s civilian and military leadership, Maduro said a scientific commission would be formed and that it would reveal that Chavez “was attacked with the disease.”

“The enemies of his nation looked for how to harm the health of our commander,” he told a news conference.

New York Times:

His departure from a country he dominated for 14 years casts into doubt the future of his socialist revolution. It alters the political balance in Venezuela, the fourth-largest foreign oil supplier to the United States, and in Latin America, where Mr. Chávez led a group of nations intent on reducing American influence in the region.

Mr. Chávez changed Venezuela in fundamental ways, empowering and energizing millions of poor people who had felt marginalized and excluded.

But Mr. Chávez’s rule also widened society’s divisions. His death is sure to bring more changes and vast uncertainty as the nation tries to find its way without its central figure.

With the president’s death, the Constitution says that the nation should “proceed to a new election” within 30 days, and that the vice president should take over in the meantime. The election is likely to pit Vice President Nicolás Maduro, whom Mr. Chávez designated as his political successor, against Henrique Capriles Radonski, a young state governor who ran against Mr. Chávez in a presidential election in October.

But there has been heated debate in recent months over clashing interpretations of the constitution, in light of Mr. Chávez’s illness, and it is impossible to predict how the post-Chávez transition will proceed.

Mr. Chávez’s supporters wept and flowed into the streets in paroxysms of mourning.

NPR:

A fiery leftist, Hugo Chavez was a steadfast ally of dictators like Cuba’s Fidel Castro while loudly opposing the United States. He claimed capitalism was destroying the world and tried to transform Venezuela into a socialist state. Millions of Venezuelans loved him because he showered the poor with social programs.

Yet Chavez, who ruled Venezuela from 1999 until his death Tuesday, was not able to turn the country’s oil wealth into broad-based prosperity. At various times, the country experienced high inflation, food shortages and many other economic problems.

On the international stage, the countries that followed Venezuela’s lead were some of Latin America’s poorest and least influential. Chavez maintained fervent supporters throughout his rule. But in the end Venezuela was, in some ways, worse off than when Chavez began.

Chavez was omnipresent during his years in power. His face was plastered on billboards, his voice dominating the airwaves. His main vehicle was a Sunday TV show, Hello Mr. President, where he was both host and guest for hours at a stretch and ranted against American leaders.

Chavez had a gift for whipping the crowds into a frenzy, pledging that their country would be great. There was, of course, a more playful side that resonated with the masses, such as when he sang to his audience.

Mark III Photonics / Shutterstock.com

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