Hugo Chavez Dies At Age 58
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Venezuela’s government announced the death of President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday, ending 14 years of rule by the firebrand socialist but leaving his party firmly in control of the nation.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro’s voice broke several times and tears ran down his face as he appeared on national television to announce that Chavez, 58, died at 4:25 p.m. local time “after battling tough with an illness over nearly two years.”
He did not say what exactly killed Chavez, although the government had announced the previous night that a new, severe respiratory infection had seriously weakened him.
Just a few hours earlier, Maduro made a virulent speech against enemies he claimed were trying to undermine Venezuelan democracy.
But as he announced the death, Maduro called on Venezuelans to be “dignified inheritors of the giant man” Chavez was.
“Let there be no weakness, no violence. Let there be no hate. In our hearts there should only be one sentiment: Love. Love, peace and discipline.”
Maduro called on Venezuelans to convene in the capital’s Bolivar Square, named for the 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, the man Chavez claimed as his inspiration.
The vice president also called on the opposition to respect “the people’s pain.”
“Those who never supported the comandante Hugo Chavez, respect the pain of the people. This is the moment to think of our families, of our country.
Chavez leaves behind a socialist political movement firmly in control of the nation, but with some doubt about how a new leadership will be formed.
Chavez’s illness prevented him from taking the oath of office after he was re-elected to a new term on Oct. 7 and under the constitution, National Assembly chief Diosdado Cabello apparently would take over as interim president.
But there was no sign of Cabello on the podium as Maduro announced Chavez’s death.
The constitution also says that elections should be called in 30 days. Chavez had specified that his supporters should support Maduro as his successor.
The man Chavez defeated in October, the youthful Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles, would be expected to represent the opposition.
Venezuela’s defense minister also appeared on television to announce that the military will remain loyal to the constitution in the wake of Chavez’s death.
Admiral Diego Molero appealed for “unity, tranquility and understanding” among Venezuelans.
On the other side of Venezuela’s political divide was Carlos Quijada, a 38-year-old economist who said he was sad that death rather than an election defeat had written Chavez’s political obituary.
“Now there is a lot of uncertainty about what is going to happen,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Maduro used a more belligerent tone as he announced the government had expelled two U.S. diplomats from the country and said “we have no doubt” that Chavez’s cancer, which was first diagnosed in June 2011, was induced by “the historical enemies of our homeland.”
He compared the situation to the death of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, claiming Arafat was “inoculated with an illness.”