Latin Americans are mourning the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who passed away at age 58 on Tuesday. Just hours before Chávez died, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro had accused Venezuela’s enemies of “attacking” the leader with cancer and expelled two U.S. Embassy officials for allegedly conspiring against the deceased president. The president’s body will be taken in a procession through Caracas to the Military Academy where it will lie in state until his funeral on Friday.
Despite ideological differences, the president’s death sent shockwaves of grief across the region. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called for a moment of silence and said that although Brazil did not always agree with his actions, Chávez was a “generous man to all the people in this continent who needed him.” The Cuban government ordered all flags flown at half-staff and declared an official mourning period through Friday. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner suspended all presidential activities after the announcement, while Chile, Ecuador and Colombia sent their condolences to the mourning nation. Bolivian President Evo Morales, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and Uruguayan President José Mujica are expected to travel to Caracas for Chávez’ funeral.
Condolences also poured in from Venezuela’s overseas allies: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced a day of mourning and compared the fallen leader to a saint, while Russian president Vladimir Putin hailed Chávez as “an extraordinary and strong man” and Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, called Chávez “a good friend to the Chinese people.” Meanwhile, Henrique Capriles, Chávez’ chief opponent in last year’s presidential elections, took to Twitter to stress the need for respect and unity amongst all Venezuelans and sent his condolences to Chavez’ family and supporters, saying that while they were adversaries, they were never enemies.
The official funeral ceremony for heads of state will take place on Friday at 10:00am at the Military Academy in Caracas. Under the Venezuelan Constitution, a new election must be held in 30 days after the president dies or steps down. Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’ handpicked successor, will step up as the interim president and is expected to run against Capriles, who led a spirited opposition campaign in October.