Chavez widely mourned, but some hope change on way

By Raphael Satter

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 6 2013 7:06 a.m. MST

Argentine supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez gather in front of Venezuela's embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced that Chavez died on Tuesday at age 58 after a nearly two-year bout with cancer.

Victor R. Caivano, Associated Press

LONDON — Some marked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's death with tears; others with cheers. There was deep mourning in Latin America, condolences from Europe and Asia and, from Iran's president, predictions of great works in the afterlife.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, focused on "a new chapter" for Venezuela, following 14 years in which Chavez cast himself as a bulwark against U.S. domination.

Chavez, who died Tuesday aged 58, was seen as a hero by some for his socialist programs, his anti-U.S. rhetoric and gifts of cut-rate oil. Others considered him a bully who repressed his opponents.

A teary-eyed Bolivian President Evo Morales, one of Chavez's closest allies and most loyal disciples, declared that "Chavez is more alive than ever."

"Chavez will continue to be an inspiration for all peoples who fight for their liberation," Morales said Tuesday in a televised speech. "Chavez will always be present in all the regions of the world and all social sectors. Hugo Chavez will always be with us, accompanying us."

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, another left-wing fan of the Latin American strongman, told The Associated Press that Chavez's ability to shrug off American pressure and weather what he described as a U.S.-backed coup attempt had inspired the entire continent to defy Washington.

"The fact that he survived encouraged other Latin American nations to break free and put their own people ahead of corporate interests," Livingstone said in a telephone interview. "Before him, the governments there were just creatures of the White House. Now they are generally pursuing policies that help their own people."

Chavez pulled Venezuela out of America's sphere of influence and embraced Washington's rivals including Cuba, Iran and Russia. Officials in all three countries had effusive praise for the late leader.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced a day of mourning and compared Chavez to a saint, saying he will "return on resurrection day."

Ahmadinejad said he has "no doubt Chavez will return to Earth together with Jesus and the perfect" Imam Mahdi, the most revered figure of Shiite's Muslims, and help "establish peace, justice and kindness" in the world. The Iranian leader said he believes something "suspicious" caused the cancer that killed Chavez.

In Cuba, President Raul Castro's government declared two days of national mourning and ordered flags to fly at half-staff.

"It is with deep and excruciating sorrow that our people and the revolutionary government have learned of President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias' decease," it said in a statement read on the nightly state TV newscast. "The Cuban people view him as one of their most outstanding sons."

Some islanders worried about the loss of the country's No. 1 ally, who has sent billions of dollars of oil to Cuba at preferential terms.

"It's a very tough blow. ... Now I wonder, what is to become of us?" said Maite Sierra, a 72-year-old Havana resident.

"It's troubling what could come now, first for Venezuela but also for Cuba," said Sergio Duran, a Havana resident. "Everything will depend on what happens in Venezuela, but in any case it will never be the same as with Chavez, even if Chavez's party wins" in upcoming elections.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Chavez "an extraordinary and strong man who looked into the future and always aimed high."

Chinese President Hu Jintao, who steps down this month, and his replacement, Xi Jinping, also sent their condolences to Vice President Nicolas Maduro, the interim Venezuelan president ahead of new elections.

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