Venezuelans pour into Plaza Bolivar to honor Chávez's socialist revolution

As news of the death of President Hugo Chávez spread, Venezuelans rushed to downtown Caracas, many wearing red in honor of their socialist commandante.

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez react to the announcement of his death in Caracas, March 5, 2013. Chavez has died after a two-year battle with cancer, ending the socialist leader's 14-year rule of the South American country, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said in a televised speech on Tuesday.

Plaza Bolivar in downtown Caracas quickly filled with Venezuelans Tuesday night, mourning the death of their president and commandante, Hugo Chávez. Many rushed directly from work to the spot named after Simon Bolivar, the liberator of South America and Chávez’s hero. The late president's signature red dotted the crowds.  As car horns blasted, thousands waved campaign posters and cradled photos of the man who led a socialist revolution that has left both Venezuela and communities across Latin America markedly changed.

A chant rose from among the crowd: “The people united will never be defeated.”

Chavez stood at the helm of Venezuela for the past 14 years, winning his most recent reelection in October. Soon thereafter he announced that his cancer, which he had been battling for at least a year and a half, had returned. He flew to Cuba in December for treatment and surgery, and was not seen publicly again. Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced his passing on national TV this afternoon.

State television shared Twitter messages from people around the globe encouraging peace and expressing condolences to the Venezuelan people. Teary statements from neighboring leaders were aired, including words from Bolivia’s President Evo Morales.  “Chavez will always be with us,” he said.

"It hurts, but we must stand united in this process of liberation, not only of Venezuela but of the whole region..." Mr. Morales said. "Chavez is now more alive than ever."

Chavez was a champion for the world’s underdogs and his country’s poor, missions bolstered by Venezuela’s vast petro-wealth. He created the Bolivarian Alliance, a bloc of leftist Latin American countries, to counter the might of international institutions like the World Bank, and poured his country’s oil wealth into neighboring nations like Bolivia, Cuba, and Nicaragua.

“Remember this is the first time within historical memory that a leftist revolution has had a big wad of dough to back it up,” says Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

But countries that have not always been closely allied with Chávez spoke out tonight as well. The Guardian reports:

Colombian President Jose Manuel Santos praised President Chavez's contribution to the peace process with the FARC [rebels] in Colombia. Chavez cherished the Bolivarian dream of regional unity, Santos said. He conveyed his condolences to Chavez's daughters.

The firebrand leader made a name for himself on the international stage with his distaste for the “bourgeois” and wealthy nations that he said tried to dominate countries like Venezuela. The Los Angeles Times published a story entitled “Hugo Chavez: Words that made headlines,” highlighting such incidents as the time he called former President George W. Bush the devil, or blamed capitalism for killing off life on Mars.

But even these so-called “imperialist” enemies from the US and Europe released statements tonight marking the end of a remarkable era, with British Foreign Secretary William Hague noting that Chávez had made a lasting “impression on the country and more widely.” And in a statement released this evening, former US President Jimmy Carter said:

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

President Chávez will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments and for his formidable communication skills and personal connection with supporters in his country and abroad to whom he gave hope and empowerment.

President Obama released a statement as well, just hours after the Chávez administration expelled two US embassy employees from the country:

At this challenging time of President Hugo Chávez's passing 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 Constitution, the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, will serve as interim president until emergency elections are held in 30 days. Vice President Maduro was tapped by Chávez in December to be his party’s successor, and he is expected to face off against the opposition leader Henrique Capriles.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.