CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has died after a long battle with cancer, the government announced. He was 58.
The death of a leading voice of the Latin American left plunged his divided, oil-rich nationinto an uncertain future.
“We have received the toughest and tragic information that … Comandante President Hugo Chavez died today at 4:25 p.m.,” a tearful Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced on television, directly from a Caracas military hospital where Chavez had been clinging to life hours prior.
“Long live Chavez,” the officials surrounding him shouted.
Venezuela declared seven days of mourning for its late leader.
A funeral was planned for Friday, Reuters reported.
Following the news, hundreds of Venezuelans gathered at the Caracas military hospital and Plaza Bolivar in a very somber mood. Many cried, saying they did not know what would come next.
The news of Chavez’s death also rocked Latin America, where he had cast a long shadow.
One of his staunchest allies in the region, Bolivia President Evo Morales, was visibly upset as he expressed his sorrow. “We are hurt,” he said. “We are destroyed by the news of the passing of brother and companion Hugo Chavez Frias.”
Morales added: “Strength, courage, greater unity than ever because this process of liberation, not just of the Venezuelan people, but of the Latin American people, must continue. Chavez is more alive than ever and will continue to be the inspiration for the liberation of the people.”
Peru President Ollanta Humala, who was elected in 2011 after carefully distancing himself from the late Venezuelan leader’s radical image, expressed his condolences to the Venezuelan people and the Chavez family, adding that he sent them “our Bolivarian and Latin American solidarity.”
Humala also expressed the hope that Venezuela could resolve its transition in a “peaceful way” and “within the democratic cause.”
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff offered a more nuanced message to reporters. “Today a great Latin American died,” she said, according to Reuters. “On many occasions, the Brazilian government did not fully agree with President Hugo Chavez but today, as always, we recognize in him a great leader, an irreparable loss and, above all, a friend of Brazil.”
The leaders of Colombia, Mexico and many other countries also expressed their condolences.
Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, declared three days of mourning for the loss and cleared her schedule so she could attend the funeral in Venezuela, CNN en Español reported.
Chavez had previously undergone months of treatment for cancer in Cuba, where he handed over cheap Venezuelan oil to its communist leaders, whom he was said to have admired.
The once ubiquitous symbol of Latin America’s “anti-imperialist” left had disappeared from public view after being flown to Cuba on Dec. 10, an unusual absence that fueled rumors about his health.
The New York Times reported that upon hearing of his death, Chavez’s supporters took to the streets to cry and mourn together.
More from GlobalPost: Hugo Chavez denies rumors of his own death
After 14 years of running the country, Chavez’s death has altered the political balance in Venezuela, among the largest largest foreign oil suppliers to the US.
With his death, the constitution calls for the country to “proceed to a new election” within 30 days; the vice president should take over until then.
Chavez was seen as a hero to some impoverished villagers in Venezuela, but others saw him as a dictator who ruined the country’s attempt to democratize.