Hugo Chavez’s death brings mixed reactions

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died March 5 in Caracas of complications from an unspecified cancer in his pelvic area. Juan Forero reported:

He was 58 and had been president since 1999, longer than any other democratically elected leader in the Americas. Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced the death.

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Mr. Chavez first revealed in a brief, dramatic television address in June 2011 that he had undergone two surgical procedures in Cuba. He would go under the knife two more times, greatly weakening the once robust leader. Mr. Chavez had been elected in October 2012 to a third six-year term. But he missed his swearing-in ceremony Jan. 10 while lying gravely ill in a Havana hospital after undergoing what his aides had called a complex operation a month before.

The country was plunged into a crisis, with Mr. Chavez’s foes accusing the government of violating the constitution. But Chavez’s lieutenants managed to buy time until their leader’s pre-dawn return to Venezuela on Feb. 18. He remained at a Caracas military hospital, with his Twitter account bursting out messages such as “Onward toward victory always!! We will live and we will triumph!!”

The reaction to his death has been mixed, according to Nick Miroff:

Hugo Chavez was a polarizing, outsized figure, and reaction to his death has been as sprawling and contradictory as his legacy is likely to be.

His passing was tearfully mourned by the poor Venezuelans he provided with free housing and health care, and cheered in Miami by those he drove into exile.

It was a preview, perhaps, of what Latin America and the world might say when Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Chavez’s political mentor and the man he once called “a father,” eventually departs. The 86-year-old Castro issued no statement or farewell letter Tuesday night, but the protégé he carefully cultivated as heir to his revolutionary ideology is now gone.

On Twitter and in official statements, leaders from Latin America and around the world offered condolences and tributes. As the region’s most vociferous advocate for Latin American integration, and biggest opponent of U.S.-backed free-trade policies, Chavez used his country’s vast energy reserves to forge ties with countries large and small.

The Venezuelan press has been reporting heavily on the death, which may be an indication of his impact as a leader. Caitlin Dewey wrote:

But the most telling accounts of Chavez’s life and death are in the Venezuelan press, which has reported breathlessly on his lengthy illness, funeral preparations and boyhood photos since Tuesday. They reflect, if nothing else, the lasting impact Chavez will have on Venezuelan life.

Full-page government ads in several papers showed a smiling Chavez under the red text “hasta la victoria siempre” — “toward victory forever!” — a phrase made famous by the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.

An editorial in El Nacional, one of Venezuela’s largest national papers, describes Chavez’s hold over the state:

“He dominated all of the state powers, won indefinite reelection, enjoyed the highest petroleum prices and personalized power in such a way that 15 years after the Bolivarian Revolution, he left the structures of the State built in his image and likeness.”

Few American politicians praised Chavez after his death. Ex-congressman Joe Kennedy was one of those politicians. The Fix’s Aaron Blake reported:

Former congressman Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) is mourning the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez today, praising Chavez as someone who made a difference for poor people.

Kennedy told the AP that Chavez helped 2 million Americans through a heating assistance program that the two men worked on together through Kennedy’s Citizen’s Energy charity. Kennedy said Chavez donated 200 million gallons of heating oil over eight years.

Kennedy also said that “some of the wealthiest people on our planet have more money than they can ever reasonably expect to spend.”

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