The Associated Press is reporting that Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, has died, according to Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro. Chavez ruled Venezuela from 1999 until today. He was only 58. He was a firebrand of socialist policies and was openly critical of the United States, with whom he always had a rocky relationship.
Previously, Hugo Chavez had been diagnosed with cancer, and was breathing with great difficulty. He had been undergoing intense chemotherapy, and it was known from varying reports that the Venezuelan president's health had been deteriorating. Ernesto Villegas, Venezuela's Information Minister had described Chavez' condition as "very delicate."
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Chavez initially ruled as a capitalist, center-left president, though there were signs of his more socialist leanings in his popular Plan Bolivar 2000 program which involved 70,000 soldiers going out into Venezuela to repair roads and bridges and provide cheap or free medical care and food. As the years passed, Chavez turned more and more to populist socialism, and his legacy will be a mixed one of supporting and emboldening the poor, but leaving behind a strugglin Venezuela.
Chavez' political opposition, which lost to him in every election, including one this past October, will have a new chance to take power. The Venezuelan constitution states that when a president dies, an election will be held within 30 days, and the Vice President takes over. Such an election, if it happens according to plan, would likely pit Vice President Nicolas Maduro, representing a continuation of Chavez' policies, against Chavez' last presidential opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski, a young state governor. How this will play out, and if there will be a special election at all remains to be seen.