Some marked Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s death with tears; others with cheers.
There was deep mourning in Latin America, condolences from Europe and Asia, and, from Iran’s president, predictions of great works in the afterlife.
US president Barack Obama, meanwhile, focused on “a new chapter” for Venezuela, following 14 years in which Chávez cast himself as a bulwark against US domination.
Chávez, who died on Tuesday night aged 58, was seen as a hero by some for his socialist programmes, his anti-US rhetoric, and gifts of cut-rate oil. Others considered him a bully who repressed his opponents.
A teary-eyed Bolivian president Evo Morales, one of Chávez’s closest allies, declared that “Chávez is more alive than ever”.
“Chávez will continue to be an inspiration for all peoples who fight for their liberation,” Morales said. “Chávez will always be present in all the regions of the world and all social sectors. Hugo Chávez will always be with us, accompanying us.”
Former London mayor Ken Livingstone said Chávez’s ability to shrug off US pressure and weather what he described as a US-backed coup attempt had inspired the entire continent to defy Washington.
“The fact that he survived encouraged other Latin American nations to break free and put their own people ahead of corporate interests,” Livingstone said.
“Before him, the governments there were just creatures of the White House. Now they are generally pursuing policies that help their own people.”
Chávez pulled Venezuela out of America’s sphere of influence and embraced Washington’s rivals including Cuba, Iran, and Russia.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced a day of mourning and compared Chávez to a saint, saying he will “return on resurrection day”.
Ahmadinejad said he has “no doubt Chávez will return to Earth together with Jesus and the perfect” Imam Mahdi, the most revered figure of Shi’ite’s Muslims, and help “establish peace, justice, and kindness” in the world. The Iranian leader said he believes something “suspicious” caused the cancer that killed Chávez.
In Cuba, president Raúl Castro’s government declared two days of national mourning and ordered that flags fly at half-mast. “The Cuban people view him as one of their most outstanding sons,” the government declared in a statement.
Some islanders worried about the loss of the country’s No 1 ally, who has sent billions of dollars of oil to Cuba at preferential terms.
“It’s a very tough blow... Now I wonder, what is to become of us?” said Maite Sierra, a 72-year-old Havana resident.
“It’s troubling what could come now, first for Venezuela but also for Cuba,” said Sergio Duran, a Havana resident. “Everything will depend on what happens in Venezuela, but in any case it will never be the same as with Chávez, even if Chávez’s party wins” in upcoming elections.
Russian president Vladimir Putin called Chávez “an extraordinary and strong man who looked into the future and always aimed high”.
Chinese president Hu Jintao, who steps down this month, and his replacement, Xi Jinping, also sent condolences to vice-president Nicolas Maduro, the interim Venezuelan president, ahead of new elections.
In the US, 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.
Some of the estimated 190,000 Venezuelan immigrants living in the US — about half of them in Florida — turned out cheering and waving their country’s flag and expressed hope that change would come to their homeland.
“We are not celebrating death,” Ana San Jorge, 37, said amid a jubilant crowd in the Miami suburb of Doral. “We are celebrating the opening of a new door, of hope and change.”
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