VENEZUELAN President Hugo Chavez has died aged 58 after a two-year battle with cancer.
Chavez, an aggressive leftist leader, had been president of Latin America’s fifth-largest economy since 1999. During his premiership, he frequently criticised capitalism and the US, becoming a figurehead for socialism in the region.
His death was announced last night by Venezuela’s vice president Nicolas Maduro on a TV broadcast. Chavez had not been seen in public for three months, having last been spotted in Cuba in December after undergoing surgery. Details about his cancer had been kept secret from public knowledge.
State rules mean that a new presidential election must be held within 30 days, with Maduro likely to go up against the more market-friendly Henrique Capriles. Maduro is seen as the favoured candidate.
As well as his fiery rhetoric, Chavez was known for repeatedly devaluing the Venezuelan currency, the Bolivar, and for his political bullying. In his 14 years in charge, he had essentially taken control of all power within the country, holding a tight grip on the army as well as the nation’s media.
Despite being one of the world’s largest oil exporters, the country’s economy had grown far slower than its Latin American counterparts during Chavez’s reign.
Barack Obama said last night the US “reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the government”.