Charismatic, controversial Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who ruled the country for 14 years, died yesterday afternoon after a two-year battle with cancer. Reaction around the world has been quick and mixed, with praise for Chavez’s larger-than-life style of leadership and his persona as the champion of the poor, and veiled criticism for his firebrand style and totalitarian rule.
On the streets of Caracas and other major Venezuelan cities, residents rushed to stock up on food and water, and hurried to the safety of their homes. While some sporadic violence had already broken out, residents fear the worst is yet to come.
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Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who Chavez tapped as his interim successor in the event of his death, called for calm. “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.” Yet this is the same leader who stated that Chavez’s cancer, first diagnosed in 2011, was the work of the “historical enemies” of Chavez and Venezuela.
Part politician and part showman—Chavez was known to dance and rap on national TV, and famously called then-U.S. President George W. Bush “the devil” in front of the U.N. General Assembly—Chavez has long been synonymous with the Venezuelan state, and his death leaves a tremendous void and great uncertainty as to who will succeed him. Maduro has promised new elections within 30 days, and opposition leader and defeated presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, governor of the Miranda state, is expected to run again.