Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has died, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced this evening. Since the president’s return home from Cuba on February 18, Venezuelan supporters have gathered to pray for the health of the president, which has been in decline for weeks. The death of the 58 year-old Chávez, who was re-elected to a fourth term as president last October, ends his fourteen years as president of Venezuela.
Over the weekend, Chávez opponents gathered to demonstrate in Caracas and demand news on the president’s health, which they said was being concealed by the Venezuelan government. Chávez had not been seen in public since a December 11 cancer surgery in Havana. Members of Venezuela’s opposition movement, including Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles, have accused the government of lying to the public about the president’s health.
Chávez government officials denied that the government was concealing information about the president from the Venezuelan public. On Monday, Venezuelan Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas said that the president had been experiencing “highs and lows” in his health status and indicated that the president’s condition was worsening after suffering a severe respiratory infection following “a strong chemotherapy treatment.” Several weeks ago, the government revealed that Chávez, who was breathing through a tracheal tube, was unable to speak.
Guillermo Cochez, Panama’s former ambassador to the OAS, told NTN24 that Chávez had experienced brain death in late December—long before his return to Venezuela—and said that the president had been disconnected from life support machines for the last four days. Cochez’ assertions have yet to be confirmed.
It is still not clear what type of cancer Chávez suffered from. He was diagnosed with cancer in June 2011, and a “softball sized tumor” was discovered in his pelvic region. After the diagnosis, he underwent three operations as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatment—most of which were performed in Cuba.
Also unclear is what will happen in Venezuela in the wake of Chavez’ death. Under the Venezuelan Constitution, Diosdado Cabello, the president of Venezuela’s national assembly, is expected to assume interim presidency.