Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was polarizing in life, and he remains polarizing in death. Reaction to the news that the controversial leader died today at 58 elicited both mourning and celebration from world leaders.
Chavez was not popular in the United States, and he defied and antagonized the country throughout his presidency.
“Hugo Chavez was a tyrant who forced the people of Venezuela to live in fear," Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said in a statement. "His death dents the alliance of anti-U.S. leftist leaders in South America. Good riddance to this dictator."
“Hugo Chavez was a destabilizing force in Latin America, and an obstacle to progress in the region. I hope his death provides an opportunity for a new chapter in US-Venezuelan relations," read a short statement from Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich), the chairman of the House committee on intelligence.
Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was, if possible, even more harsh: "sic semper tyrannis" -- "thus always to tyrants" -- begins his statement on the "welcome news" of Chavez's death, which goes on to hope for a "a free, democratic, and pro-American government in Venezuela."
Not all American politicians responded to Chavez's death so gleefully. In a statement, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said Chavez “will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments.” Sen. Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Chavez "ruled Venezuela with an iron hand" and encouraged the country to "restore its once robust democracy and ensure respect for the human, political and civil rights of its people.”
President Obama's brief statement said only:
At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.
Meanwhile, Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) raised eyebrows after tweeting a number of laudatory remarks about Chavez and releasing a statement on the Venezuelan president's involvement in his district. Serrano and Chavez partnered on a social program in the Bronx in 2005. His statement read, in part:
“President Chavez was a controversial leader. But at his core he was a man who came from very little and used his unique talents and gifts to try to lift up the people and the communities that reflected his impoverished roots. He believed that the government of the country should be used to empower the masses, not the few. He understood democracy and basic human desires for a dignified life. His legacy in his nation, and in the hemisphere, will be assured as the people he inspired continue to strive for a better life for the poor and downtrodden.”
That response more closely parallels the reaction from the world leaders who have publicly spoken about Chavez thus far.
In Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff called Chavez "a great leader, an irreparable loss and above all a friend of Brazil" before holding a minute of silence, according to AFP.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin also called Chavez a friend: "He was a great politician for his country, Latin America and the world. He played a very important role in the development of relations between Venezuela and Russia, so we feel very badly about [his death]."
A number of politicians also tweeted their condolences. "Goodbye commander and friend Hugo Chavez," begins this tweet from Peruvian President Ollanta Humala Tasso.
Adiós Comandante y amigo Hugo Chávez. Mis sentidas condolencias a su familia y a todo el pueblo venezolano.
— Ollanta Humala Tasso (@Ollanta_HumalaT) March 5, 2013
#PresidenteFunes: "Venezuela pierde no solo a un Presidente, sino a un patriota, a un hombre de pensamiento y accionar transformador"
— Casa Presidencial (@presidencia_sv) March 5, 2013
Recibo con mucho pesar la noticia de la partida del presidente Hugo Chávez, entrañable y solidario amigo de nuestro país.
— Danilo Medina (@DaniloMedina) March 5, 2013