Maria Britos/ Contributing Writer
The news of the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hit worldwide late Tuesday afternoon after an announcement made by Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro. Chavez had been battling cancer since 2011 and rumors of his death since December of 2012.
For many Venezuelans this news brought sentiments from delight to speculation. In Venezuela, his followers grieved his death and marched in the streets of the capital supporting the continuance of his political policies. On the other hand, Venezuelans in South Florida, who fled the country in fear of losing their wealth and freedom, were celebrating the leader’s death.
“I have a feeling the situation in Venezuela is going to become very hostile,” sophomore international business major Alejandro Merino said. “So the next few years are going to be very crucial, and it’s too soon to really know what’s going to happen, so we just have to wait and hope.”
During more than 14 years in office, his leftist politics and grandiose style polarized Venezuelans. The barrel-chested leader electrified crowds with his booming voice and won admiration among the poor with government social programs and a folksy, nationalistic style.
Throughout his presidency, Chavez was reelected three times for a six-year-term after his government adjusted the country’s constitution in his favor. He renamed Venezuela the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela after his political inspiration; the 19th-century independence leader, Simon Bolivar.
Venezuela witnessed as their commandante, forced television and radio stations off the air if they opposed his political and government ideas. Chavez then took over television to host his own daily show, which ran however long he wanted, where he freely lambasted his opponents, lectured the country on socialism and announced political news at his discretion.
Chavez used his country’s oil wealth to launch social programs that included state-run food markets, new public housing, free health clinics and education programs. While poverty declined during his presidency amid a historic boom in oil earnings, critics said he failed to use the windfall of hundreds of billions of dollars to develop the country’s economy.
Inflation soared and the homicide rate rose to among the highest in the world.
“I can say that I’m neither happy nor sad about it,” junior journalism major Carhil Medina said. “Living here in America, you don’t really get to see the full impact that he’s had on the people. I do believe though, that he was not the best of presidents and that Venezuela can do better off without him.”
Chavez was a “master communicator and savvy political strategist,” as the Associated Press described him. He was well known around the world for his disputes with the United States and Great Britain as well as his famous friendships with dictator Fidel Castro, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
As of now, the country will have new elections held in 30 days, and although there is speculation that the current Vice President Nicolas Maduro will be representing the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, there was no official announcement. The opposition’s party is also unsure of their candidate but former presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, is expected to run.
“Without a doubt, Chavez’s death will be marked as an ending of a difficult era for the people of Venezuela,” junior criminal justice major Rebeca Artiles said. “I, myself, am not rejoicing because of his death but I am celebrating the fact that my family will be able to live a better life. I just hope the next appointed president will push the country in the right direction.”
Additional reporting by Frank Bajak and Ian James of the Associated Press.