World Reactions to Chavez Death Expose Polarizing Legacy

"Goodbye, Comandante and friend Hugo Chávez," Peru's leftist President Ollanta Humala tweeted, reflecting sentiments shared by leaders across South America

By Sam Schulz
|  Wednesday, Mar 6, 2013  |  Updated 10:43 AM EDT
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2013 In Memoriam: James Avery

AP

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez leaves behind a polarizing legacy. The mixed reactions to his death across the globe Tuesday were testament to that.

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The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has left South America without the charismatic leader who galvanized a wave of socialist victories across the continent — and has left the United States without one of its most enduring populist firebrand foes.

Politicians worldwide were reacting to the death of the leftist leader Tuesday night and remarking on the future of the oil-rich nation.

The White House took the chance to reaffirm its support for Venezuela's people and its hopes for a rapprochement with its government.

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"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," President Barack Obama said in a statement Tuesday evening.

"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," it continued.

In Venezuela, the challenger whom Chávez had recently beaten to secure a fourth term as president tweeted his support for the late president's family.

"My solidarity with all the family and followers of President Hugo Chávez, we advocate for the unity of Venezuelans at this time," Henrique Capriles Radonski tweeted. "In difficult times we must show our most profound love and respect to our Venezuela!"

His sentiments were shared by many South American leaders.

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Bolivia's president Evo Morales, a long-time close friend and ally of Chávez, was reportedly en route to Caracas, and Uruguayan President José Mujica was reportedly heading there Wednesday morning.

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who had close ties to Chávez, was heading there as well. She decreed three days of mourning in Argentina and ordered all flags to fly at half staff, Argentine newspaper La Nacion reported.

The government of Cuba, perhaps Chávez's closest international ally all the way up until his death, released an emotional statement praising him as "an honest, lucid and brave fighter of the revolution" who "accompanied Fidel (Castro) like a true son."

"To our colleagues in the military and in the Venezuelan government we reiterate our support, alliance, and faith in the victory," it read in part.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said Chávez's passing "saddens all Latin Americans," as her country's Congress held a moment of silence in the capital Brasília. "The Brazilian government and people lost a great friend," she said.

Ecuador's self-described left-wing President Rafael Correa declared three days of national mourning in solidarity with Venezuela.

"A great Latin American is gone. The whole world recognizes the greatness of this revolutionary," Correa said Tuesday night. "Ecuador feels as though this death were ours."

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos offered his condolences on Twitter, as did Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

"Goodbye, Comandante and friend Hugo Chávez," Peru's leftist President Ollanta Humala wrote in a tweet of his own.

In the U.S., Chávez's passing exposed his polarizing legacy, as members of Congress responded to his passing variously with tributes and derision.

"Good riddance to this dictator," California Republican Ed Royce said in a statement, while Arkansas Republican and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers called the news of Chávez's death "welcome news."

Some of the many Venezuelans living in Florida were reacting with cautious optimism that there will be change in their homeland following his death on Tuesday, and Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida called it "an opportunity for democracy in Venezuela."

Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the GOP's rising national stars, agreed and urged the country to move past what he called the "socialist disaster" of Cháve's presidency.

"The Venezuelan people now have an opportunity to turn the page on one of the darkest periods in its history and embark on a new, albeit difficult, path to restore the rule of law, democratic principles, security and free enterprise system in a nation that deserves so much better than the socialist disaster of the past 14 years," he said.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter released a statement saying Chávez "will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments."

Chavez also won an encomium from former Massachusetts congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, who after leaving Congress has led the non-profit energy company Citizens Energy, which drew scrutiny in the U.S. for enlisting Chavez's help to provide heating oil to low-income Americans.

"President Chavez cared deeply about the poor of Venezuela and other nations around the world," Kennedy said in a statement. "Our prayers go out to President Chavez's family, the people of Venezuela and all who were warmed by his generosity."

At the United Nations, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called the death "a tragedy. He was a great politician for his country, Latin America and the world."

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