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Venezuela’s Chavez leaves a bitterly divided nation

chavez def 5President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela died Tuesday afternoon after a long battle with cancer, the government announced, leaving behind a bitterly divided nation in the grip of a political crisis that grew more acute as he languished for weeks, silent and out of sight in hospitals in Havana and Caracas.

His departure from a country he dominated for 14 years casts into doubt the future of his socialist revolution. It alters the political balance in Venezuela, the fourth-largest foreign oil supplier to the United States, and in Latin America, where Mr. Chávez led a group of nations intent on reducing American influence in the region.

Mr. Chávez changed Venezuela in fundamental ways, empowering and energizing millions of poor people who had felt marginalized and excluded.

But Mr. Chávez’s rule also widened society’s divisions. His death is sure to bring more changes and vast uncertainty as the nation tries to find its way without its central figure.

With the president’s death, the Constitution says that the nation should “proceed to a new election” within 30 days, and that the vice president should take over in the meantime. The election is likely to pit Vice President Nicolás Maduro, whom Mr. Chávez designated as his political successor, against Henrique Capriles Radonski, a young state governor who ran against Mr. Chávez in a presidential election in October.

But there has been heated debate in recent months over clashing interpretations of the constitution, in light of Mr. Chávez’s illness, and it is impossible to predict how the post-Chávez transition will proceed.

Mr. Chávez’s supporters wept and flowed into the streets in paroxysms of mourning.

Mr. Chávez was given a diagnosis of cancer in June 2011, but throughout his treatment he kept many details about his illness secret, refusing to say what kind of cancer he had or where in his body it occurred. He had three operations from June 2011 to February 2012, as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but the cancer kept coming back. The surgery and most other treatments were done in Cuba.

Then on Dec. 8, just two months after winning re-election, Mr. Chávez stunned the nation by announcing in a somber televised address that he needed yet another surgery.

That operation, his fourth, took place in Havana on Dec. 11. In the aftermath, grim-faced aides described the procedure as complex and said his condition was delicate. They eventually notified the country of complications, first bleeding and then a severe lung infection and difficulty breathing.

After previous operations, Mr. Chávez often appeared on television while recuperating in Havana, posted messages on Twitter or was heard on telephone calls made to television programs on a government station. But after his December surgery, he was not seen again in public, and his voice fell silent.

Mr. Chávez’s aides eventually announced that a tube had been inserted in his trachea to help his breathing, and that as a result he had difficulty speaking. It was the ultimate paradox for a man who seemed never at a loss for words, often improvising for hours at a time on television, haranguing, singing, lecturing, reciting poetry and orating.

As the weeks dragged on, tensions rose in Venezuela, and the situation turned increasingly bizarre. Officials in Mr. Chávez’s government strove to project an image of business as usual and deflected inevitable questions about a vacuum at the top. At the same time, the country struggled with an out-of-balance economy, troubled by soaring prices and escalating shortages of basic goods.

The opposition, weakened after defeats in the presidential election in October and elections for governor in December, in which its candidates lost in 20 of 23 states, sought to keep pressure on the government.

Then officials suddenly announced on Feb. 18 that Mr. Chávez had returned to Caracas. He arrived unseen on a predawn flight and was installed in a military hospital, where aides said he was continuing treatments.

Over nearly a decade and a half, Mr. Chávez built a political movement and a government that were centered on his outsize personality. He made most major decisions and dominated all aspects of political life. He inspired a fierce, sometimes religious devotion among his supporters and an equally fervent animus among his opponents. As many of his followers say: “With Chávez everything, without Chávez nothing.”

But that leaves his revolution in a precarious spot without its charismatic leader.

“In regimes that are so person-based, the moment that the person on which everything hangs is removed, the entire foundation becomes very weak because there was nothing else supporting this other than this figure,” said Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at Amherst College.

Mr. Chávez’s death could provide an opportunity for the political opposition, which was never able to defeat him in a head-to-head contest.

Mr. Capriles lost by 11 percentage points to Mr. Chávez in October. But he has twice beaten top Chávez lieutenants in running for governor of his state, Miranda, which includes part of Caracas.

And Mr. Maduro is far from having Mr. Chávez’s visceral connection to the masses of Venezuela’s poor. Even so, most analysts believe that Mr. Maduro will have an advantage, and that he will receive a surge of support if the vote occurs soon after the president’s death.

But even if Mr. Maduro prevails, he may have a hard time holding together Mr. Chávez’s movement and furthering its socialist goals while fending off resistance from what is likely to be a revived opposition.

Mr. Chávez’s new six-year term began on Jan. 10, with the president incommunicado in Havana. In his absence, the government held a huge rally in the center of Caracas, where thousands of his followers raised their hands to pledge an oath of “absolute loyalty” to their commander and his revolution. Officials promised that Mr. Chávez would have his inauguration later, when he had recovered.

But the hoped-for recovery never came. Now, instead of an inauguration, Mr. Chávez’s followers are left to plan a funeral.

By WILLIAM NEUMAN

First Published in the NY Times

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  • aleesara

    RIP Chavez.

  • aleesara

    RIP Chavez.

  • 5thDrawer

    Instead of accepting fate and retiring, the head of a cult of personality insisted on ‘running’ for office again – which hangs the rest of the cult out to dry on his death – not counting the expense to all the country of needing another probable election. Some Supremes can simply not let go …..

    • Hannibal

      Hey 5th, common knowledge says that Chavez championed and abided by democracy. So I wonder if he really was voted in, why are you down on him? Just curious…
      I happen to like the guy so does Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_P._Kennedy_III

      http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_politics/2013/03/joe_kennedy_s_oil_aid_to_dry_up

      As you see in this article, Chavez gives the needy in the U.S. free oil for heating purposes. I think he was a good guy.
      Thoughts???

      • hariri assaoudi

        i noticed, you, hariri, clinton, obama, livni, kennedy, ehud barak, holaco, nebukhaznassar, timorlank,che guevara, iskandar al makdouni al kabir (alexander the great), the gogs and magogs and al ibrahimi have same ideas; it is called deja vu and deja entendu which are serious features of schizophrenia; get help please, you need it urgently

        • Hannibal

          This is the last time I answer you HA. Tell me one thing in my post that relates to you or to any of your foes or friends. Just to prove my point that you have a fixation or a fatal attraction to me. God may be we should meet. Who knows behind the keyboard lurks a beautiful (but nasty) lady. I am sorry I cannot do you though because I am committed to another.

          Moving forward I will ignore all your comments and refrain from answering to the noise you are until you debate with some purpose or with thoughtful meaningful posts. 3awwe add ma baddak…
          Les chiens aboient, la caravane passe (“The dogs bark, but the caravan goes by”)… I am sure you are familiar with that.

    • hariri assaoudi

      are you saying people who have cancer should retire? omg, we live in 21th century!!!and you want gays to get married and to bring children, yet you deny the right of someone who is sick to continue his activities; unbelievable!!!!

  • 5thDrawer

    Instead of accepting fate and retiring, the head of a cult of personality insisted on ‘running’ for office again – which hangs the rest of the cult out to dry on his death – not counting the expense to all the country of needing another probable election. Some Supremes can simply not let go …..

    • Hannibal

      Hey 5th, common knowledge says that Chavez championed and abided by democracy. So I wonder if he really was voted in, why are you down on him? Just curious…
      I happen to like the guy so does Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_P._Kennedy_III

      http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_politics/2013/03/joe_kennedy_s_oil_aid_to_dry_up

      As you see in this article, Chavez gives the needy in the U.S. free oil for heating purposes. I think he was a good guy.
      Thoughts???

      • hariri assaoudi

        i noticed, you, hariri, clinton, obama, livni, kennedy, ehud barak, holaco, nebukhaznassar, timorlank,che guevara and al ibrahimi have same ideas; it is calkled deja vu and deja entendu which are serious features of schizophrenia

        • Hannibal

          This is the last time I answer you HA. Tell me one thing in my post that relates to you or to any of your foes or friends. Just to prove my point that you have a fixation or a fatal attraction to me. God may be we should meet. Who knows behind the keyboard lurks a beautiful (but nasty) lady. I am sorry I cannot do you though because I am committed to another.

          Moving forward I will ignore all your comments and refrain from answering to the noise you are until you debate with some purpose or with thoughtful meaningful posts. 3awwe add ma baddak…
          Les chiens aboient, la caravane passe (“The dogs bark, but the caravan goes by”)… I am sure you are familiar with that.

    • hariri assaoudi

      are you saying people who have cancer should retire? omg, we live in 21th century!!!and you want gays to get married and to bring children, yet you deny the right of someone who is sick to continue his activities; unbelievable!!!!

  • Prophettttt

    An extra ordinary personality by all means.Like him or not, like his fiery revolutionary ideas or not, Chavez will go down in history as one of the leaders who made a difference in Latin America. Bigger than life personality. He loved the poor,and hated the rich,He supported the underdog and opposed the arrogance of the powerful.He implemented social reforms in a country known for corruption. He introduced a new constitution which increased the participation of poor people and middle class. He funded all social programs,especially health care and education.He fought poverty.
    He was elected twice .His people made their choice,and He was good for his people.
    Was He perfect? No. Was He always right ?No.But who is perfect? No body.Did He always have good intentions for his people? Yes. Was He controversial? Yes. Was He provocative? Yes.but So what?
    Show me how many SO CALLED ARAB “LEADERS” whom his people line up to pay respect to him when He dies? Non.

    • Persistent

      Well said as usual Prophet. The guy had a lot of guts and spoke his mind, whether one liked it or not. I must add, he is insulted when compared in any way to the polarizing, impulsive, useless and nothing but dead head arab characters. I take issue with calling them “leaders” as they treat their people like a herd…

      • Prophettttt

        Presistent, You’re right, they are not worth calling leaders. I will make the correction above so it reads So Called leaders.lol

      • AntiFSA01

        Couldn’t have agreed with you more Persistent.

    • Beiruti

      Gamel Abdul Nasser (7 Million people attended the funeral).

      • hariri assaoudi

        and salafis broke my fathers car in beirut at that time; why would i care about a traitor egyptian president

        • Beiruti

          You seem to be very uneducated, I thought that a man commenting on this site should have basic knowledge of famous leaders in the middle east. Little do you know that Nasser put the Islamists and Salifists in prison. I personally hate Nasser, i just wanted to tell Prophet that there have been Middle Eastern leaders that the people do care about.

          • hariri assaoudi

            not at all professor, no knowledge of anything is a prerequisite to comment on this site actually the more ignorant and stupid you are the better and you as well as patience and hannibal are the living proof for it; for your govern, some considered abdel nasser as a new prophet following prophet mohammad; our maid at that time put his pic in her room and when asked she said she would have preferred her father to die than abdel nasser; dozens of fanatical salafists committed suicide when he died; i do not know how old you were when he died but at that time the radical salafis in beirut burnt the city street after street in their areas of domination; i do recognise he was an arabic nationalist but your mastery of english seems to be as good as that of hannibal who needs to google every word i type to understand part of it; where in my sentence did i say nasser was a salafi? i said salafis in beirut broke my fathers car when he died; can you ask someone who understands english to translate it for you; oops i am sorry i dont think english is your problem here, it seems logic is the problem

          • Hannibal

            I feel so popular… I am mentioned in every text. Thank you for your support.

          • hariri assaoudi

            le nom des fous se trouve partout; quelle pedale

          • Prophettttt

            Beiruti, Good to see you back. Nasser may not have been a successful president,but He was really loved by his people because He was considered one of them .He lived like an average Egyptian. People in Egypt likes his down-to-earth humility and his love for poor people. He didn’t live in palaces ,He lived in his own modest family home while He was a president. The problem was that he was a military man,and not a politician.He did have leadership in the sense of rallying people around him with his charisma.He was very secular,and hated all politicized religious groups.He practiced his faith very privately ,and very traditionally as a personal matter.And Yes millions of people,Egyptians and other Arabs shed tears when He passed.
            Other than Nasser, I can’t think of any Arab president/king/Emir whom his people shed tears over him,except for king Hussein,although He was a dictator.But in our time, I can’t think of any,and I should have been more clear that I was talking about the present set of so called leaders.

    • AntiFSA01

      Very well put Prophet, as Persistent said as usual.

  • Prophettttt

    An extra ordinary personality by all means.Like him or not, like his fiery revolutionary ideas or not, Chavez will go down in history as one of the leaders who made a difference in Latin America. Bigger than life personality. He loved the poor,and hated the rich,He supported the underdog and opposed the arrogance of the powerful.He implemented social reforms in a country known for corruption. He introduced a new constitution which increased the participation of poor people and middle class. He funded all social programs,especially health care and education.He fought poverty.
    He was elected twice .His people made their choice,and He was good for his people.
    Was He perfect? No. Was He always right ?No.But who is perfect? No body.Did He always have good intentions for his people? Yes.
    He was more Palestinian than Palestinians.

    • Persistent

      Well said as usual Prophet. The guy had a lot of guts and spoke his mind, whether one liked it or not. I must add, you are insulting him when you compare him to the polorizing, useless and nothing but dead head arab figures.

      • Prophettttt

        Presistent, TY. I will make the correction so it reads So Called leaders.lol

      • AntiFSA01

        Couldn’t have agreed with you more Persistent.

    • Beiruti

      Gamel Abdul Nasser (7 Million people attended the funeral).

      • hariri assaoudi

        and salafis broke my fathers car in beirut at that time; why would i care about a traitor egyptian president

        • Beiruti

          You seem to be very uneducated, I thought that a man commenting on this site should have basic knowledge of famous leaders in the middle east. Little do you know that Nasser put the Islamists and Salifists in prison. I personally hate Nasser, i just wanted to tell Prophet that there have been Middle Eastern leaders that the people do care about.

          • hariri assaoudi

            not at all professor, no knowledge of anything is a prerequisite to comment on this site and ytou are the living proof for it; for your govern, some considered abdel nasser as a new prophet following prophet mohammad; our maid at that time put his pic in her room and when asked she said she would have preferred her father to die than abdel nasser; dozens of fanatical salfists committed suicide when he died; i do not know how old were you when he died but at that time the radical salafis in beirut burnt the city street after street in their areas of domination; i do recognise he was an arabaic nationalist but your mastery of english seems to be as good as that of hannibal who needs to google every word i type to understand part of it; wherre in my sentence did i say nasser was a salafi? i said salafis in beirut broke my fathers car when he died; can you ask someone who understands english to translate it for you; oops i am sorry i dont think english is your problem here, it seems logic is the problem

          • Hannibal

            I feel so popular… I am mentioned in every text. Thank you for your support.

          • hariri assaoudi

            le nom des fous se trouve partout; quelle pedale

          • Prophettttt

            Beiruti, Good to see you back. Nasser may not have been a successful president,but He was really loved by his people because He was one of them ,and lived like an average Egyptian. People in Egypt like his humility and love for poor people. He didn’t live in palaces ,He lived in his own modest famliy home while He was a president. The problem was that he was a military man,and not a politician.He did have leadership in the sense of rallying people around him with his charisma.He was very secular,and hated all politicized religious groups.He practiced his Islam very privately ,and very traditionally as a personal matter.And Yes millions of people, Egyptians and other Arabs shed tears when He passed.
            Other than Nasser, I can’t think of any Arab president/king/Emir whom his people shed tears over him,except for king Hussein,although He was a dictator.But in our time, I can’t think of any,and I should have been more clear that I was talking about the present set of so called leaders.

    • AntiFSA01

      Very well put Prophet, as Persistent said as usual.