Dubai: In the streets of Caracas, Chavistas are mourning the passing of their political icon. In the offices of businesses and opponents stifled by the socialist and populist polices of Hugo Chavez, they are looking forward to warmer ties with Washington.
Either way, nobody in Venezuela is untouched by the death on Tuesday afternoon of the country’s iconoclastic and bombastic president.
For the past three years, the former paratrooper and street politician had been battled pelvic cancer, undergoing three separate operations and invasive treatments in Cuba. After weeks of failing health, his death was announced on state television by a crying Vice-President Maduro,
“It’s a moment of deep pain,” he said.
Under Venezuela’s constitution, Maduro takes control, with new presidential elections required within 30 days. That election is likely to pit Maduro, whom Chavez designated as his political successor, against Henrique Capriles Radonski, a young state governor who lost in a presidential election in October but scored 46 per cent of the vote.
Within minutes, Chavez supporters began pouring onto the streets, weeping and chanting “Chavez lives!” and “We are Chavez!”
The 54-year-old former paratrooper was a polarising figure — not just in Venezuela where he nationalised the oil industry, ordered petrol to be sold at grossly low prices, improved healthcare and education and stifled press freedoms — but across Latin and South America where he inspired a new generation of left-leaning politicians.
A tearful Bolivian President Evo Morales, one of Chavez’s closest allies and most loyal disciples, declared that “Chavez is more alive than ever.”
“Chavez will continue to be an inspiration for all peoples who fight for their liberation,” Morales said in a teleived address. “Chavez will always be present in all the regions of the world and all social sectors. Hugo Chavez will always be with us, accompanying us.”
“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,” US President Barack Obama said.
But in Venezuela itself, there are doubts as to whether Maduro, a former bus driver, has the political ability or support to carry through on 14 years of Chavez rule. To his political opponents, “El Commandante” was the worst type of autocrat, intent on building a one-party state and ruthlessly clamping down on any who opposed him.
Compiled from agencies