Latin America mourned the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as the US expressed hope his passing would lead to improved relations with the oil-rich state.
Chavez, 58, died after a long battle with cancer, plunging Venezuela into an uncertain future after 14 years of rule by the charismatic former paratrooper, a standard-bearer of Latin America’s “anti-imperialist” left.
A tearful Vice-President Nicolas Maduro announced Chavez’s death on state television saying: “We have received the hardest and most tragic news that… comandante President Hugo Chavez died today at 4.25pm.”
“Long live Chavez,” the officials surrounding him shouted.
The once omnipresent face of the Latin American country had been breathing with the aid of a tracheal tube, and had not been seen in public in almost three months.
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez is pictured with his daughters, Maria Gabriela, left, and Rosa Virginia at an unknown location in Havana, Cuba, in February, the last publicly released image of him.
Maduro moved to immediately deploy police and the military following the announcement “to accompany and protect our people and guarantee the peace.”
The country now faces another election as Venezuela’s constitution rules an election must be held within 30 days of the president’s death.
Venezuela’s Minister of Defence, Adm Diego Alfredo Molero Bellavia told a news conference of the deployment: “You can count on us, the men and women of the country’s armed forces, who will together ensure that the constitution is upheld.
Chavez supported spilled onto the streets across Venezuela to publicly mourn his passing.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff hailed Chavez as a “great Latin American,” describing his death as “an irreparable loss”.
Bolivia’s socialist President Evo Morales – whose political priorities and style of leadership have drawn deeply from his close ally Chavez – said he was “crushed” by his friend’s death and would soon travel to Venezuela.
“We are in pain. We are crushed,” Morales said, before adding that the “liberation, not only of the Venezuelan people but also of Latin America’s people broadly, must go on.” (Courtesy The Herald Sun)