CARACAS: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died on Tuesday after a two-year battle with cancer, ending 14 years of tumultuous rule that made the socialist leader a hero for the poor but a hate figure to his opponents.
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. His last surgery was on Dec. 11 and he had not been seen in public since.
“We have just received the most tragic and awful information. At 20:55 GMT today March the 5th, President Hugo Chavez Frias died,” Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced in a televised address, his voice choking.
“It’s a moment of deep pain,” he said in the address, in which he appeared with senior ministers.
Chavez easily won a new six-year term at an election in October and his death will devastate 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 death opens the way for a new election that will test whether his socialist “revolution” can live on without his dominant personality at the helm.