MSNBC is reporting this hour (4:00 p.m. Chicago time) that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is dead. The Venezuela Vice President Nicolas Maduro made the announcement just minutes ago. Chavez was 58.
It was in 2011 when Chavez announced that he had cancer. He spent more than two months in treatment in Cuba recently. He had only returned to Venezuela two weeks ago. No official word has ever been released as to the exact type of cancer he had.
Chavez has been President of Venezuela since 1998. His country’s economy has been highly dependent on oil sales to the US, mainly through the “Citgo” brand name. Still, Hugo Chavez has been a staunch critic of capitalism, especially its American manifestation.
It was just this past Tuesday, that Venezuelan Vice President Maduro accused both its domestic and foreign enemies of attacking Chavez when he’s down. According to CNN, the government expelled two US Embassy officials who were thought to be in the process of procuring military support for yet another plot or coup attempt against Chavez and the Venezuelan government.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua announced that the American Air Force attaché was expelled for meeting with military officers who were known to be planning to destabilize the country. Embassy spokesman Greg Adams identified the attaché as David Delmonaco. He did not immediately know Delmonaco’s rank.
Maduro spoke hours after the government said Chavez was in "very delicate" health after undergoing cancer surgery in December.
According to The New York Times, Chavez leaves a very divided country in the midst of a political crisis. The crisis and conflicts only grew wider and deeper as he grew sicker and sicker over the last few months. For most of that time, he has remained unseen in Cuban hospitals and in Caracas (the capital).
Chavez was truly a figure “larger than life.” He dominated Venezuelan politics, economics, society and culture for 14 years. His death (though not surprising) puts the immediate future of the Venezuelan socialist revolution into serious doubt.
Undoubtedly, however, the political dynamics of Venezuela, the fourth-largest foreign oil supplier to the United States, and in Latin America, where Chávez led a group of nations determined to stymie American influence in the region, will all undergo serious transformations following this leader’s death.
The New York Times reports that Chávez oversaw fundamental changes in Venezuela. He empowered, energized and organized millions of the Venezuelan masses of poor people who had traditionally been marginalized and excluded from the body politic.
Still, according to US government (State Department) sources, Chavez death will only exacerbate already deep political, social and economic tensions. Critics claim that his death will unleash more unwanted changes and uncertainty as the nation tries to navigate its way without its leading light.
CNBC indicates that the Venezuelan Constitution provides that the nation should “proceed to a new election” within 30 days, and that the vice president should take over in the interim. The election is likely to pit Vice President Maduro, whom Mr. Chávez designated as his political successor, against Henrique Capriles Radonski, a young state governor who ran against Chávez in a presidential election in October.
Yet, in recent months there has been much gnashing of teeth and debate over just what the Constitution really says and means. Now, with Chavez's death, it is unclear at best and impossible at worst to predict just how, or even if there will be an orderly post-Chávez transition.
According to The New York Times, Chávez’s supporters wept openly in the streets across Venezuela today.
Chávez was diagnosed with an unspecified cancer in June 2011. Throughout his entire illness, details were kept secret. It is known, however, that he underwent three operations from June 2011 to February 2012, as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatment – all to no avail. The cancer returned after each surgery or after a brief remission period.
On Dec. 8, 2012, two months after winning reelection, Chavez announced that he needed yet another operation.
That operation, his fourth, took place in Havana on Dec. 11 and, apparently, did not go well. Complications ensued, including severe lung infection and difficulty breathing.
After his December surgery, he was not seen again in public.
Since December, political and economic tensions have risen exponentially in Venezuela. Loyalists of the Chavez government have tried to present a brave face of normalcy and “business as usual.” But Venezuela has struggled with an out-of-balance economy, soaring prices and rampant shortages of basic goods and services.
On Feb. 18, government officials announced that Chávez had again returned to Caracas. He was placed in a military hospital, where was reportedly undergoing more treatment.
Chavez dominated all of Venezuelan life for many years. He loyalists’ and followers’ devotion was more akin to religious fervor, belief and faith than mere or ordinary political party identification. His faithful had a saying about him: “With Chávez everything, without Chávez nothing.”