Venezuela’s iconic president, Hugo Chávez, died in a military hospital in Caracas on Tuesday night his deputy, Nicolás Maduro, has confirmed in an emotional public address.
Maduro will lead Venezuela in the interim ahead of a new presidential election that will take place within the next 30 days.
The announcement of Chávez’s death following his illness with cancer prompted an outpouring of public grief, with thousands of his supporters taking to the streets in Caracas. The gathered crowds sang songs and chanted his name.
The Venezuelan Government announced seven days of mourning with many public buildings closed for the rest of the week.
Chavez, who was 58 years old, will be buried on Friday in a state funeral in Caracas, which is likely to be attended not only by millions of his supporters, but also by public officials from around the world.
Chavez was a controversial and divisive figure in his 14 years as Venezuelan President, being the figurehead for 21st Century socialism. He was a staunch critic of America’s military strategy, not only in South America but across the world.
Some evidence pointed to the CIA being behind an attempted coup against Chavez in 2002, which he always maintained to be true.
Despite his fractious relations with the US, Chávez famously donated oil to heat the homes of the poorest US citizens, a programme that started in 2005 after hurricane Katrina and has continued ever since.
Chávez oversaw a raft of social reforms over his four terms as president, including universal healthcare, improved education and a reduction in poverty rates, all paid for by Venezuela’s vast oil reserves.
According to Al Jazeera, since he came to power in 1999 the number of doctors in Venezuela has increased 12 fold, primary education enrolment has increased by 50% and the poverty rate has dropped from 49% to 24%.
Whilst Chávez polarised international opinion like no other, few would deny that he was a charismatic man and a dynamic leader.
Condolences have flooded in from around the world, with Cuba, Bolivia and Argentina all declaring days of national mourning.
Brazilian president, Dilma Rouseff, said in a public statement: “This death should fill all Latin and Central Americans with sadness, Hugo Chávez was without doubt a leader committed to his country and to the development of the people of Latin America.”