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, President Raul Castro’s government declared two days of national mourning and ordered the flag to fly at half-staff.
“It is with deep and excruciating sorrow that our people and the revolutionary government have learned of President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias’ decease,” it said in a statement read on the nightly state TV newscast. “The Cuban people view him as one of their most outstanding sons.”
Some islanders worried that the loss of the country’s No. 1 ally, who has sent billions of dollars of oil to Cuba at preferential terms, could have a negative ripple effect there.
In the United States, where relations with Venezuela were strained under Chavez, President Barack Obama issued a statement reaffirming Washington’s 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,” the statement read.
Filmmaker Oliver Stone, who produced a film about Chavez and his leftist allies, wrote in his Twitter account, “I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world … Hated by the entrenched classes, Hugo Chavez will live forever in history. My friend, rest finally in a peace long earned.
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.”
“We are all Chavez,” she said in televised comments.
At the United Nations, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called the death a tragedy.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague sent condolences to Venezuela and the family of Chavez, who he said “left a lasting impression on the country and more widely” during his 14 years as president.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered condolences to Venezuela’s people and said he hopes Chavez’s death brings hope of a better future.
Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez, whose ode to revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara became famous, used the song’s title words to bid farewell to Chavez on his blog.