Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has passed away at the age of 58 following a two-years-long fight against cancer and a severe respiratory infection. His untimely demise raises serious questions about the future of the oil-rich regional power.
The president of Venezuela died on Tuesday afternoon, Vice President Nicolas Maduro has announced. “It’s a moment of deep pain,” he said, accompanied by senior ministers.
This comes weeks after his return from Cuba where he underwent a cancer operation. His ‘delicate condition’ had recently worsened due to complications of a respiratory infection, and official reports said he was breathing through a tracheal tube, unable to speak.
One of the world’s best-known socialist leaders and a staunch critic of the United States, Chavez had been battling the disease for nearly two years, undergoing four surgeries and several sessions of chemotherapy in Havana.
Despite his ailing health, Chavez was reelected in November to a fourth term. However, he was not able to attend his January 10 inauguration ceremony, which cast doubt on the succession of power in the country. Prior to his death, the Venezuelan opposition called for a new election should Chavez be unfit to take over the office.
The Venezuelan president was one of the most controversial world leaders in recent history, and a vocal critic of ‘US imperialism.’
Chavez began his adult life as an army officer in Venezuela’s paratrooper unit; he staged a coup in 1992 along with other disgruntled members of the military in an attempt to overthrow the ruling government of Carlos Andres Perez.
The coup failed, and Chavez spent two years in prison until he was pardoned; this marked the beginning of his momentous career in politics.
He then founded the revolutionary political party ‘Movement of the Fifth Republic’ and ran for president in 1998, promising economic reforms and campaigning against government corruption.
He won the presidency in 1999 by riding a wave of popular outrage at Venezuela’s traditional political elite.
Chavez has remained in power continually since then, except for a brief period in April 2002 when he was removed by military leaders over his controversial plan to tighten his personal grip on the state-run oil industry.
He returned to power, but a stalemate ensued, which led to referendum in 2004 on whether Chavez should remain president. A majority of voters chose for Chavez to complete his term.