Controversial Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, died Tuesday, March 5 leaving his country in a state of flux. The announcement came after an uncharacteristically quiet few months for the charismatic leader as he battled the cancer that ultimately took his life. First diagnosed in 2011, he recently underwent his fourth surgery. He died at the age of 58 after 14 years as president of Venezuela. He was reelected to his fourth term in 2012 but was not sworn in due to his health issues. Vice President, Nicolas Maduro, will act as interim president until the next election takes place in 30 days.
Venezuela is a notoriously divided nation, and many are worried about the stability of the country in the face of the loss of their leader. Chavez himself gained popularity through his leadership in a failed coup and was also overthrown by a coup for a brief period in 2002. Despite the country’s history of instability government officials have promised that all branches of the government will continue to work together and is also calling for support from its citizens.
“We must unite now more than ever,” said Maduro.
The White House issued a statement in support of the Venezuelan people despite the strained relationship between the U.S. and Venezuela.
President Barack Obama said in the statement “At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.”
The relationship between the two countries became increasingly strained in the events leading up to the death of Chavez. Maduro accused two U.S. diplomats of attempting to “destabilize” Venezuela and ordered they be expelled from the country. He also claimed that Chavez’s enemies infected him with the cancer and that there will be “scientific proof” of this sometime in the future. U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell denied these accusations.
Chavez was both fiercely loved and hated. Many remain supportive of the changes he made and the party he founded, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. However, Venezuela remains a divided nation.