President Hugo Chavez dies from cancer
07 March, 2013
CARACAS: President Hugo Chavez died on Tuesday after a two-year battle with cancer, ending 14 years of tumultuous and divisive rule that won him passionate support among the poor but hatred from business leaders and wealthy Venezuelans.
The flamboyant 58-year-old had undergone four operations in Cuba for a cancer that was first detected in his pelvic region in mid-2011. He vanished from public view after Dec 11 surgery that resulted in complications and respiratory infections.
"It's a moment of deep pain," said Vice President Nicolas Maduro, choking up during a national address. "Commander, thank you so much, on behalf of these people whom you protected." Military chiefs quickly pledged loyalty to Maduro, who will be caretaker leader until elections are called within 30 days. Weeping Chavez supporters poured onto the streets, chanting "Chavez lives! The revolution continues!" and "We are Chavez!"
"Don't let anyone try to convince you Chavez has gone ... He will always be with us," said Congress head Diosdado Cabello.
The president's death was announced by Maduro, flanked by cabinet ministers, less than an hour after he passed away.
State TV broadcast Chavez's emotional last speech from December, shops in Caracas locked up for fear of looting, and condolences came from around the world, including messages from filmmaker Oliver Stone and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Tensions ran high in some areas. Colombia's RCN TV showed one of its reporters bleeding from a head wound after she was apparently beaten by Chavez supporters outside the military hospital.
Chavez easily won a new six-year term at an election in October and his death is devastating for millions of supporters who adored his charismatic style, anti-US rhetoric and oil-financed policies that brought subsidized food and free health clinics to long-neglected slums.
Chavez's corpse will lie in state at a Caracas military academy until a formal funeral ceremony on Friday, and seven days of mourning will be observed, officials said.
"The funeral of Chavez is going to rival Eva Peron's in Argentina," said Daniel Hellinger, a Venezuela expert in the United States, referring to the beloved former first lady of Argentina who died at the height of her popularity in 1952.
Chavez's death opens the way for a new election that will test whether his socialist "revolution" can live on without his dominant personality at the helm.
The new vote will likely pit Maduro against Henrique Capriles, the centrist opposition leader and state governor who lost to Chavez in October. Maduro appealed for calm and respect for democracy.