Caracas: Symbol of Latin America`s "anti-imperialist" Left, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez passed away on Tuesday after a two-year battle with cancer, ending 14 years of tumultuous rule that made the former paratrooper turned socialist leader a hero for the poor but a hate figure to his opponents.
Amid cries of "Long live Chavez", Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced on television, “We have just received the most tragic and awful information. At 4.25 p.m. (03.55 p.m. EST) today March the 5th, President Hugo Chavez Frias died."
Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced in a televised address, "It`s a moment of deep pain," he said, his voice choking.
He also called on the Venezuelan people of all political sections to unite together. "Let there be no violence or hatred, but love, peace, unity and discipline," Maduro said.
His death is may push his divided country into an uncertain future. After 14 years under the charismatic leader, it is time for the litmus test for the Socialist revolution – whether it can survive without Chavez’s dominant personality at the helm. Chavez had positioned himself as the vanguard of “21st Century Socialism”.
Chavez had bedeviled the United States and outsmarted his rivals time and again, while using Venezuela`s vast oil wealth to his political advantage.
The vote should be held within 30 days and will likely pit Maduro against Henrique Capriles, the centrist opposition leader and state governor who lost to Chavez in the October election.
Chavez, who was 58, had four operations for cancer and four courses of chemotherapy in Cuba and Venezuela within a year. His fourth operation, to remove cancerous tissue, took place in Cuba Dec 11, 2012.
The government had sent mixed signals about the president`s health for weeks, warning one day that he was battling for his life, yet insisting as recently as last weekend that Chavez was still in charge and giving orders.
The son of schoolteachers, he rose from poverty in a dirt-floor, mud-walled house, a "humble soldier" in the battle for socialism. He fashioned himself after 19th-century independence leader Simon Bolivar and renamed his country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
During more than 14 years in office, his leftist politics and grandiose style polarized Venezuelans. The barrel-chested leader electrified crowds with his booming voice, and won admiration among the poor with government social programs and a folksy, nationalistic style.
Chavez will be mourned by many of the country`s poor, who revered the self-styled revolutionary for using the country`s oil riches to fund popular housing, health, food and education programs.
Chavez died five months after winning an October election, overcoming a resurgent opposition and public frustration over a rising murder rate, regular blackouts and soaring inflation.