Chavez widely mourned, but some hope change on way

By Raphael Satter

Associated Press

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

China has forged a useful friendship with Chavez centered on oil. Tens of billions of dollars in Chinese loans, repayable in oil, helped fund social programs and consumer goods giveaways that made Chavez popular. His anti-American policies and posturing also pleased some in Beijing, though Chinese leaders were careful not to show public support.

China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called Chavez "a good friend to the Chinese people."

In the United States, Obama issued a statement reaffirming Washington's 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 statement read.

Republican U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida called Chavez's death "an opportunity for democracy in Venezuela."

Some of the estimated 190,000 Venezuelan immigrants living in the United States — about half of them in Florida — turned out cheering and waving their country's flag and expressed hope Tuesday that change would come to their homeland.

"We are not celebrating death," Ana San Jorge, 37, said amid a jubilant crowd in the Miami suburb of Doral. "We are celebrating the opening of a new door, of hope and change."

Wearing caps and T-shirts in the Venezuelan colors of yellow, blue and red, many expressed cautious optimism and concern.

"Although we might all be united here celebrating today, we don't know what the future holds," said Francisco Gamez, 18, at El Arepazo, a popular Venezuelan restaurant in Doral.

Several U.S. allies offered praise for Chavez, though some, like France's Socialist President Francois Hollande, noted that "not everyone shared" his political views.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement that Chavez's death was "a heavy blow," but also said Venezuela would move on to "new times." Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sent a telegram saying that with the death of Chavez "one of the most influential figures in Venezuela's contemporary history has disappeared."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague sent his condolences, as did Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper — although the latter pointedly offered hopes for a "a better, brighter future based on the principles of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights."

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez declared three days of mourning nationwide. She and President Jose Mujica of neighboring Uruguay prepared to travel to Venezuela for the funeral.

In Nicaragua, a nation that broadly benefited from Venezuelan cut-rate oil, Rosario Murillo, the wife and spokeswoman of President Daniel Ortega, said Chavez is "one of the dead who never die."

"We are all Chavez," she said in televised comments.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter released a statement saying Chavez "expressed a vision to bring profound changes to his country to benefit especially those people who had felt neglected and marginalized."

"Although we have not agreed with all of the methods followed by his government, we have never doubted Hugo Chavez's commitment to improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen," Carter wrote.

A wistful Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador and another of Chavez's closest allies, predicted Chavez would have a lasting influence. "We have lost a revolutionary, but millions of us remain inspired."

His influence extended beyond Latin America. Nabil Shaath, an adviser to the Palestinian president, called Chavez "a loyal friend who passionately defended our right to freedom and self-determination." In the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, civil servant Nguyen Van Ngoc praised Chavez as "a very strong character."

"The United States tried to exert influence in Latin America, but it couldn't do anything to countries like Venezuela and Cuba," he said.

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