Chavez death echoes with leftists worldwide

Last Updated: Wed, Mar 06, 2013 01:34 hrs

Havana: Reactions to the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez were as mixed, polemical and outsized as the leader was in life, with some saying his passing was a tragic loss and others calling it an opportunity for Venezuela to escape his long shadow.

Seen as a hero by some for his anti-U.S. rhetoric and gifts of cut-rate oil, others considered him a bully.

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."

In Cuba, which has come to rely on Venezuela for billions of dollars in oil at preferential terms during Chavez's presidency, some were worried that the loss of their No. 1 ally could have a negative ripple effect on the island.

"It's a very tough blow ... Now I wonder: What is to be 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.

Relations with the United States were strained under Chavez.

President Barack Obama issued a statement saying that the United States reaffirms its 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," according to the statement.

Some of the Venezuelans living in Florida reacted with cautious optimism that there will be change in their homeland following his death.

In the Miami suburb of Doral, Venezuelans watched on television as the country's vice president, Nicolas Maduro, announced that Chavez had died.

At a popular restaurant, one person cheered at the news, but the rest watched quietly and refrained from any celebration. An hour later, people began arriving with Venezuelan flags, cheering and crying out joyfully. Beneath the jubilation, though, was worry about what happens next.

Though Chavez left a socialist movement in firm control in Venezuela, some question how new leadership will be formed there.

"Although we might all be united here in celebration today, we don't know what the future holds," said Francisco Gamez, 18, who showed up at the El Arepazo restaurant in Doral in a track suit adorned with the Venezuelan flag.

An estimated 189,219 Venezuelan immigrants live in the United States, with 91,091 in the state of Florida, according to U.S. Census figures. Many are anti-Chavez and came to the United States after he rose to power.

Mario Di Giovanni, a Venezuelan student activist in Miami who helped organize voters in October, said he was apprehensive but hopeful about Venezuela's future.

"I always knew that for things to get better they had to get worse," he said. "So I guess this is the first step toward real change in Venezuela."

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

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, another Chavez ally, declared three days of mourning nationwide and ordered the Argentine flag hung at half-staff. She also prepared to travel to Venezuela.

In Nicaragua, another 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."

In a television broadcast, Murillo said "We are all Chavez."

But Raul Martinez, a leader of the leftist, pro-government Sandinista Youth group, acknowledged in an interview with a local television station that "it is a hard blow,"

"Hugo Chavez was our best ally, but we are confident that the Venezuelans we will continue their support," Martinez.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter released a statement saying Chavez "will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments."

"We came to know a man who expressed a vision to bring profound changes to his country to benefit especially those people who had felt neglected and marginalized," Carter wrote. "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."

At the United Nations, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called the death "a tragedy. He was a great politician for his country, Latin America and the world. He played a very important role in the development of relations between Venezuela and Russia, so we feel very badly about it."

There was no shortage of emotional farewells to a socialist hero who some feel rivaled the revolutionaries of the 1960s.

Famed Cuban folksinger Silvio Rodriguez, whose ode to revolutionary Che Guevara became famous, used the same words to bid farewell to Chavez.

"Hasta siempre, comandante" — "Goodbye forever, commander," he wrote on this

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