Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died on Tuesday at the age of 58 according to the Venezuelan government.
An "emotional" Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced that the cancer-stricken leader passed away at 4:25 PM local time. The declaration was made at a news conference where he was flanked by several senior government officials.
Earlier in the day Maduro said that the president was facing his "most difficult hours."
Chávez had been diagnosed with cancer nearly two years ago and he went through four surgeries to treat the disease including the most recent one last December 11th. He had not been seen publicly since that surgery except for a group of photos where he was convalescing with his daughters.
"One of the most visible, vocal and controversial leaders in Latin America, the former army paratrooper won the presidency in 1998 and had most recently won another six-year presidential term in October 2012," according to a BBC News article.
More updates to come...
Update (6:00 PM): In his speech reporting Chávez' death, Maduro called on the Venezuelan people "of all ages to be watchdogs of peace." Yet he also announced the "special deployment" of police and troops in order to "guarantee the peace" throughout the country.
According to the New York Times, "Mr. Chávez’s supporters wept and flowed into the streets in paroxysms of mourning. "
As a result of Chávez death legislative chief Diosdado Cabello is constitutionally obligated to organize a new presidential election to be held within thirty days. That election could pit Maduro, who Chavez selected as his successor, against defeated presidential candidate Henrique Capriles. (A poll taken last month showed Venezuelans back Maduro over Capriles 50% to 39%).
Update (6:30 PM): Among the reactions by leaders throughout the Americas to Chávez' death was that by Bolivian president Evo Morales, one of Chávez' closest allies in the Americas He will supposedly travel tonight to Caracas and pay his respects to the recently deceased Venezuelan leader.
Other messages of condolence have emerged from leftist and conservative presidents throughout the region. Peruvian president Ollanta Humala and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto each issued brief message of condolence to Chávez' family and solidarity with the Venezuelan people while Argentine president Cristina Kirchner suspended all of her public activities.
Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín highlighted how Chávez was a "strong supporter for the peace process" between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas.
Regarding reactions in social media outlets, Chávez' death was reportedly mentioned on Twitter over a million times within an hour of the announcement of his passing away.
Update (9:00 PM): U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his country's "support for the Venezuelan people" and the White House's "interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government".
"As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights," read the letter that was published on Tuesday evening.
The White House statement comes hours after the State Department replied to the Venezuelan government, which expelled two diplomats accused of plotting against the Chávez administration.
"We reject the allegations by the Venezuelan government against Air Force attaché David DelMonaco and...Devlin Kostal", read a State Department communiqué.
Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Venezuela during Chavez' time in the presidency have been uneasy at best and acrimonious at worst. But as mentioned in The Guardian, "Washington quietly engineered a diplomatic opening with Caracas last November after a lengthy standoff during which ambassadors were withdrawn".
Speaking of Washington, there were reactions among several of Chavez' more ardent critics in Congress. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen expressed her hope that Venezuela will have the "opportunity to emerge from this oppressive regime and regain their democracy and human rights." Striking a less diplomatic tone was Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, who gave a "good riddance" to the late Venezuelan leader.
Note: More updates can be read below the page break.
Update (9:30 PM): Ex-presidential candidate Henrique Capriles read a statement from the Venezuelan opposition giving condolences to the family of Chávez as well as his supporters.
"This country with its long history will move forward and the people know how to seek the path of hope that they have a right to," read Capriles.
"This is not the time to highlight what separates us...but it's the right time for unity, for peace," added the Miranda state governor.
Legislative chief Diosdado Cabello spoke at roughly the same time as Capriles and he urged the opposition to "cease their attacks against the Chávez family."
Cabello also urged Chavistas to "continue the struggle" in the name of the recently deceased president.
Update (9:55 PM): Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said that Vice President Nicolás Maduro will become interim president.
"(Presidential) elections will be held in the next 30 days," Jaua also said in televised remarks.
He added that there will be seven days of mourning nationwide in honor of the late Hugo Chávez and his funeral will be held in Caracas on Friday.
Update (10:25 PM): Thus far there have been few reports of violence in Venezuela.
A group of unknown assailants burned down the tents that had been erected by student protesters demonstrating against the government during the last eight days.
While there were no injuries from that incident, a reporter for Colombia's RCN was attacked in Caracas.
According to one Colombian news source, Carmen Andrea Rengifo "ran with her face and hands covered with blood" after she was supposedly attacked by "Chavez sympathizers."
Update (11:00 PM): We will return on Wednesday with more news from the Americas including a look at Venezuela in the post-Chávez era.
For now, we leave you with differing perspectives on Chávez and Venezuela's future. The first comes via the Washington Post from a Chavista in Caracas:
“He was like my father. He had a soul that was very big, and we are very sad,” said Nancy del Nogal, 58, a worker in the state oil company, which Chavez purged of opponents. “He didn’t deserve it. We deserved it more than him. He fought for this country, and we’ll follow him and continue in this battle. Let that be clear to the world. We’ll fight for what he fought for here.”A distinct opinion is provided by the Miami Herald from a pair of exiled Venezuelans residing in South Florida:
Daniela Calzadilla and her sister, Corina, toasted Chávez’s death with Polar beer in styrofoam cups. The women hoisted a small Venezuelan flag.
“We hope this is the path to return our democracy and that hopefully we can have the same country we once had,” said Daniela Calzadilla, who moved from Caracas five years ago. She left because crime in the Venezuelan capital skyrocketed under Chávez’s leadership, she said, and career opportunities dwindled.
Corina Calzadilla, who moved to Weston a decade ago, said she felt bad for Chávez’s children. “The death of a parent is painful,” she said.
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