Fernando Soto Rojas, a member of parliament from Chavez’s socialist PSUV
party, had said earlier that Mr Cabello must take the helm.

And the opposition had also said that the constitution calls for Mr Cabello to
take the helm if the president died.

However, Chavez had appointed Mr Maduro as his successor and Venezuela’s
military chiefs quickly pledged loyalty to him.

Mr Maduro made the announcement that Chavez, who only returned to Venezuela
last month after travelling to Cuba last year for treatment, had succumbed
to a “severe respiratory infection” after months of treatment for cancer.

After news of his death broke, Chavez supporters poured onto the streets,
weeping and chanting “Chavez lives!” and “We are Chavez!”.

The mood was sombre in the capital, with hundreds gathering at Plaza Bolivar
and outside the military hospital where Chavez was being treated.

Janelis Rangel, 47, a Caracas resident, said: “I’m in so much pain, I’m
so sad. But I’m glad because Chavez won’t die. He’s done so much for us, for
the poor. He’s done so much for the world. Other presidents are nothing
compared to him.”

Within minutes of the announcement of Chavez’s death, the Venezuelan national
flag was lowered to half mast in Caracas.

Patricia Villegas, a Venezuelan journalist who was outside the military
hospital, said: “There were tears, people looked to the sky and gave thanks
for the social changes that had been brought about.”


Hugo Chavez salutes as he greets supporters in 2011 Photo: Reuters

Wilmer Barrientos, strategic commander of the Venezuelan Armed Forces (FAN),
told the state broadcaster there was a plan to patrol the country “to defend
the Fatherland” in the hours after Chavez’s death.

Mr Maduro moved swiftly to replicate the anti-American rhetoric with which his
predecessor whipped poverty-stricken supporters into a frenzy.

Even as Mr Chavez lay dying, his deputy was expelling two American diplomats
from Caracas, accusing them of working to “destabilise the government” by
exploiting a power vacuum.

Mr Maduro had earlier blamed Mr Chavez’s deteriorating health on an “attack”
by foreign enemies.

He told Venezuelans he had no doubt that Mr Chavez’s cancer, which was
diagnosed in 2011, was the result of a poisoning by “enemies of our
homeland”. The US rejected the claim as “absurd”.

Henrique Capriles Radonski, the country’s opposition leader, cautiously
“advocated unity” among Venezuelans, amid fears of disquiet. “My sympathy to
all the family and supporters of President Hugo Chavez,” he said in a
statement.

Mr Chavez’s daughter, Maria Gabriela Chavez, spoke of her sadness at her
father’s death and urged her compatriots to extend his legacy of self-styled
Socialist radicalism.

“I have no words,” she wrote on Twitter. “Eternally,thanks! Strength! We
should follow his example. We must continue to build the homeland! Farewell
my daddy!”

In a carefully-worded statement released by the White House, President Barack
Obama said that “at this challenging time”, the US “reaffirms its support
for the Venezuelan people”.

“The United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic
principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights, Mr Obama said.

Yet Mr Chavez’s demise was welcomed by many leaders in Washington. “Good
riddance,” said Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House foreign
affairs committee.

Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee,
said: “I hope his death provides an opportunity for a new chapter in
US-Venezuelan relations”.

However Jose Serrano, a Democrat from The Bronx, New York City’s most
impoverished borough, hailed Mr Chavez as a leader who “understood the needs
of the poor”. “He was committed to empowering the powerless,” Mr Serrano
wrote on Twitter. “RIP Mr President”.

Mr Chavez repeatedly condemned what he called American imperialism, proudly
styling himself as one of Washington’s most vocal critics and irritating
opponents.

Speaking at the United Nations, he described then-president George W. Bush as
“the devil”. After endorsing Mr Obama in 2008, he later said the young
Democratic president had been disappointing and merely extended US
wrongdoing.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said he was “saddened” to learn of Mr
Chavez’s death.

“As President of Venezuela for 14 years he has left a lasting impression on
the country and more widely. I would like to offer my condolences to his
family and to the Venezuelan people at this time.”

Amadou Boudou, the vice-president of Argentina, expressed his “great sorrow
for the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez”, stressing that sympathy
was felt across the region.

“There is great pain in all of America,” he said. “He was one of the best.
Farewell, Commander.”

Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry expressed solidarity with the Venezuelan people to
“mourn the irreparable loss to Venezuela and the region.” President Fernando
Cordero sent a tribute to the Chavez family.

Mr Chavez returned to Venezuela from Cuba last month, but this most outgoing
of leaders had failed to make any public appearances, causing rumours of his
demise to sweep Caracas.

The president’s health had been a closely-guarded secret, and the nature of
his cancer had never been officially disclosed.

Mr Maduro would probably face Mr Capriles, the opposition leader, in elections
next month. The 50-year-old vice-president is a loyal “Chavista”, but lacks
the charisma that allowed his mentor to win four successive elections.

Mr Capriles lost a presidential election against Mr Chavez last year. A
contest against Mr Maduro, who is embattled against internal party
opponents, may give Venezuela’s opposition a renewed chance.

In 2002, Mr Chavez was briefly toppled in a coup, before being restored by
popular demonstrations. His allies believe the US was behind that episode.
Constant attacks on America and claims that Washington seeks Mr Chavez’s
downfall have been themes of his rule.

Hugo Chavez: Venezuelans mourn death of charismatic leader – Telegraph.co.uk
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