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 11 December surgery that resulted in complications and respiratory infections.
“It’s a moment of deep pain,” said Vice President Nicolas Maduro, his voice choking during a live TV address.
“His project, his flags will be raised with honour and dignity. Commander, thank you, thank you so much, on behalf of these people whom you protected.”
Venezuela’s military chiefs quickly pledged loyalty to Maduro, who will be caretaker president until elections are called within 30 days.
Chavez supporters poured onto the streets, weeping and chanting “Chavez lives!” and “We are Chavez!â€
“Don’t let anyone try to convince you Chavez has gone … He will always be with us,” said the head of Congress, Diosdado Cabello.
State TV broadcast Chavez’s emotional last speech to the nation in December, shops in Caracas closed their doors for fear of looting, and condolences poured in from around the world, including messages from film maker Oliver Stone and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
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.
Detractors, however, saw his one-man style, gleeful nationalizations and often harsh treatment of opponents as traits of an egotistical dictator whose misplaced statist economics wasted a historic bonanza of oil revenues.
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.
Sourced:Â Eyewitness News