Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died yesterday after a two-year battle with cancer, ending 14 years of tumultuous and divisive rule that won him passionate support among the poor but hatred from business leaders and wealthy Venezuelans.
The 58-year-old had undergone four operations in Cuba for a cancer that was first detected in his pelvic region in mid-2011. He disappeared from public view after December 11 surgery that resulted in complications and respiratory infections.
"It's a moment of deep pain," said Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, choking up during a national address. "Commander, thank you so much, on behalf of these people whom you protected."
Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Chavez's hand-picked successor vice president Nicolas Maduro who would take over as interim leader pending the next election.
Hundreds of Chavez supporters crowded in front of the military hospital where he died, weeping and chanting "We are all Chavez!" and "Chavez lives!"
International reaction was mixed while many in Latin America were hailing Mr Chavez's support for the poor but others expressing the hope that the iconic figure's passing would lead to a more open political system.
US President Barack Obama who was often a target of Mr Chavez's anti-American scorn, was cautious, pledging the United States would support the "Venezuelan people" and describing Mr Chavez's passing as a "challenging time."
Strangely enough, Maduro expelled two US military attaches accusing Venezuela's enemies of somehow afflicting the firebrand leftist Mr Chavez with the cancer that eventually killed him.