CARACAS — Shattered supporters of Hugo Chavez mourned his death in a flood of emotion that allies of the socialist leader hope will help ensure the survival of his self-styled revolution when voters elect a successor.
Ending one of Latin America’s most remarkable populist rules, Chavez died yesterday at 58 after a two-year battle with cancer that was first detected in his pelvis.
Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to honour the flamboyant and outspoken leader, whose body was taken to a military academy today to lie in state for three days.
State TV ran constant images of past speeches and appearances, under the banner “Chavez lives”.
The future of Chavez’s leftist policies, which won him the adoration of poor Venezuelans but infuriated opponents who denounced him as a dictator, now rests on the shoulders of Vice President Nicolas Maduro, the man he tapped to succeed him.
“In the immense pain of this historic tragedy that has affected our fatherland, we call on all the compatriots to be vigilant for peace, love, respect and tranquility,” Maduro said. “We ask our people to channel this pain into peace.”
Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader, will probably face opposition from Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda state, in the next election in the OPEC nation with the world’s largest oil reserves.
The stakes are huge for the region, given the Chavez government’s crucial economic aid and cheap fuel supplies to allies across Latin America and the Caribbean.
Authorities said the vote would be called within 30 days, but it was not clear if that meant it would be held, or simply that the date would be announced.
One recent opinion poll gave Maduro a strong lead over Capriles, in part because he has received Chavez’s blessing as his heir apparent, and he is likely to benefit from the surge of emotion following the president’s death.
The tall, mustachioed Maduro has long been a close ally of Chavez. He immediately pledged to continue his legacy, and would be unlikely to make major policy changes soon.
Maduro will now focus on marshalling support from Chavez’s diverse coalition, which includes leftist ideologues, business leaders, and radical armed groups called “colectivos”.
Some have suggested he might try to ease tensions with Western investors and the US government. Yet hours before Chavez’s death, Maduro alleged that “imperialist” enemies had infected the president with cancer and expelled two US diplomats accused of conspiring with domestic opponents. (Reuters)