Supporters of the late Venezuelan president cry in front of the Military Hospital.
Shattered supporters of Hugo Chavez paraded his coffin through the streets of Caracas yesterday in a flood of emotion allies hope will help his deputy win an election due in the coming weeks and keep his self-styled revolution alive.
Tens of thousands of “Chavistas” marched behind the remains of the flamboyant and outspoken president, draped in Venezuela’s blue, red and yellow national flag.
Many wept as a hearse flanked by soldiers in red berets carried his coffin through downtown Caracas and loudspeakers played Chavez’s voice singing songs.
Ending one of Latin America’s most remarkable populist rules, Chavez died on Tuesday at 58 after a two-year battle with cancer that was first detected in his pelvis. His body was taken to a military academy yesterday to lie in state for three days.
The future of Chavez’s leftist policies, which won him the adoration of poor Venezuelans but infuriated opponents who denounced him as a dictator, now rests on the shoulders of Vice President Nicolas Maduro, the man he tapped to succeed him.
“In the immense pain of this historic tragedy that has affected our fatherland, we call on all the compatriots to be vigilant for peace, love, respect and tranquility,” Maduro said. “We ask our people to channel this pain into peace.”
Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader, will probably face Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda state, in the next election in the Opec nation with the world’s largest oil reserves.
The stakes are huge for the region, given the crucial economic aid and cheap fuel the Chavez government supplied to allies across Latin America and the Caribbean.
One recent opinion poll gave Maduro a strong lead over Capriles, in part because he has received Chavez’s blessing as his heir apparent, and he is likely to benefit from the surge of emotion following the president’s death.
The tall, mustachioed Maduro has long been a close ally of Chavez. He immediately pledged to continue his legacy and is unlikely to make major policy changes soon.
Maduro will now focus on marshalling support from Chavez’s diverse coalition, which includes leftist ideologues, business leaders and radical armed groups called “colectivos.”
Some have suggested he might try to ease tensions with Western investors and the US government. Yet hours before Chavez’s death, Maduro alleged that “imperialist” enemies had infected the president with cancer and he expelled two US diplomats accused of conspiring with domestic opponents.
A victory by Capriles, 40, a centrist politician who calls Brazil his model for Venezuela, would bring big changes and be welcomed by business groups, although he would probably move cautiously to lower the risk of political instability.
“This is not the time to stress what separates us,” Capriles said in a condolence message, calling for unity and respect for the loss that many felt after Chavez’s death. “There are thousands, maybe millions, of Venezuelans asking themselves what will happen, who even feel fear ... Don’t be scared. Don’t be anxious. Between us all, we’re going to guarantee the peace this beloved country deserves.”
Oil sector will not open anytime soon: analysts
There is little hope that Venezuela will boost oil production and thus lower global prices after the death of president Hugo Chavez, as the country is not expected to open up to western investors any time soon, analysts said yesterday.
Venezuela is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, pumping around 3% of global supplies. Chavez nationalised assets by foreign oil companies such as Exxon during his presidency and pushed out major international energy companies, leading to falling investments in the industry and stagnating output at the wells.
“A more investor-friendly environment in Venezuela would significantly improve supply perspectives on the oil market. In the long run, this could curb oil prices,” analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt said.
However, experts noted that the chance of this happening are slim, even though the Latin American country owns the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
“We do not expect large changes to Venezuela’s oil policies and see only a minor chance for greater openness towards foreign investors,” industry consultants at JBC Energy said in Vienna.
Venezuela has been relying on companies from China, Russia and India to bring more oil to the surface, with scant results. “I think a little Western know-how would help a lot,” said Ehsan Ul-Haq, an expert at the British energy consultancy KBC.
Another problem is that the state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela has been transferring a major share of its revenues to social government projects, rather than investing it, he said.
World pays tributes to ‘great leader’
Condolences poured in yesterday from world leaders who had found common cause with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in his 14-year campaign to galvanise the Latin American left and defy US “imperialism.” Ideological allies in Latin America lined up to salute the late firebrand as Russia, China and Iran paid tribute to a key regional partner, while the US expressed hope for improved ties with oil-rich Venezuela. Chavez, 58, died after a long battle with cancer, plunging Venezuela into an uncertain future after 14 years of rule by the charismatic former paratrooper, a standard-bearer of Latin America’s “anti-imperialist” left.
Cuba hailed Chavez as a “true son” to the communist nation’s retired 86-year-old revolutionary icon Fidel Castro and declared three days of mourning in honour of its closest regional ally and main economic benefactor.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called Chavez an “uncommon and strong man who looked into the future and always set the highest target for himself” and thanked him for laying the “solid basis” for Russia-Venezuela relations. Russia enjoys close military ties with Venezuela, which also represents one of the main oversees investment targets of the giant state oil company Rosneft.
China, which also cultivated strong economic ties with Chavez’s Venezuela, called him a “great leader” and a “great friend of the Chinese people.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Chavez had fallen as a “martyr” to a “suspect illness,” apparently referring to claims by Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro that the cancer that killed him was part of a conspiracy.
“Venezuela lost its brave, strong son and the world lost a wise and revolutionary leader,” Ahmadinejad added.
Washington’s response to the death of Chavez, who had repeatedly thumbed his nose at the US and referred to president George W Bush as a “donkey” and the “devil,” was more circumspect. “At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing, the US reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government,” President Barack Obama said in a short statement.
“As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the US remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon paid tribute to Chavez’s work on behalf of his country’s poor and his support of Colombia’s peace process, saying he “spoke to the challenges and aspirations of the most vulnerable Venezuelans.”
Latin American leaders - even those ideologically at odds with Chavez - praised him as a strong leader who had worked to unify the region. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said Chavez was a “great Latin American... a great leader, an irreparable loss and above all a friend of Brazil.” In Argentina, Vice President Amado Boudou said on Twitter that “all of Latin America” was in mourning.