June 20, 2013
Venezuelans mourn Chávez as focus turns to election
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's death has unleashed a flood of emotional tributes that his allies hope will help ensure the survival of his self-styled socialist revolution when voters elect a successor.
The 58-year-old died after a two-year battle with cancer that was first detected in his pelvis. He had suffered multiple complications following his latest operation on December 11 and had not been seen in public since then.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans immediately took to the streets to honor the flamboyant and outspoken leader, and the mourning will continue when his body lies in state on Wednesday.
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 Nicolás 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 likely face opposition state governor Henrique Capriles at the next election.
Authorities said the vote would be called within 30 days, but it was not clear if that meant it would be held within 30 days or just whether the date would be announced in that period.
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.
Maduro has been a close ally of Chavez for years and would be very unlikely to make major policy changes.
Some have suggested he might try to ease tensions with investors and the U.S. government although, hours before Chavez's death, Maduro alleged that "imperialist" enemies had infected the president with cancer as one of a number of conspiracies with domestic opponents.