Hugo Chavez death: Live Report

by Joe Mouzo and Katherine Haddon

AFP IS CLOSING THIS LIVE REPORT after the death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who has lost his lengthy battle with cancer. His death has silenced a leading voice of the Latin American left and plunged his oil-rich nation into an uncertain future. Venezuela, still divided after a close-run election in October 2012, has declared seven days of national mourning, and says a new election will be called within 30 days. Tributes have poured in from around the world, but reaction has been mixed to news of his death. Many in Latin America hailed the revolutionary leader's support for redistributing Venezuela's vast oil wealth to the poor but rights activists are hoping his passing will lead to a more open political system. 0249 GMT: More reaction from New York, where UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has paid tribute to the late Venezuelan leader for his efforts with Colombia's peace process. "His contribution to the current peace talks in Colombia between the Government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia has been of vital importance," he says. 0244 GMT: Back in Havana, Cuba has declared three days of national mourning. In an official statement read out on state television, the Cuban government says the Venezuelan leader "stood by Fidel (Castro) like a true son," during Chavez's 14 years in power. Cuba's revolutionary icon, now 86, stepped aside as president in 2006 during a health crisis of his own. 0237 GMT: Chavez might have alienated the US political elite but he was much loved by many in Hollywood. US filmmaker and long-time supporter Oliver Stone hailed Chavez as a "great hero". The "JFK" and "Natural Born Killers" director said: "I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world for a place. "Hated by the entrenched classes, Hugo Chavez will live forever in history," he added in a statement released by his publicist, adding: "My friend, rest finally in a peace long earned." Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn also issues a statement praising Chavez and gives his backing to Maduro. "Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion. I lost a friend I was blessed to have," he says. 0233 GMT: Venezuela has some of the world's largest proven oil deposits, so one of the main question marks will be what happens to all this mineral wealth now that Chavez has passed away? During his regime, Chavez used much of these petrodollars to help alleviate poverty across the country. Figures from the World Bank show that in 2003 -- five years after his first election win -- the national poverty rate stood at an eye-watering 62.1%. By 2011, it had fallen to 31.9%, which might help explain Chavez's appeal with many of his fellow countrymen. Experts will be looking to see whether the next leader continue with many of Chavez's social redistributive programmes. 0229 GMT: Mourners are still assembling in public squares throughout Caracas and other Venezuelan cities, singing the national anthem, wiping away tears and holding pictures of the leader who forged a near-mystical bond with the country's poor. But grief is beginning to be give way to some anger as a group of 50 university students -- who had been staging an anti-Chavez sit-in in the middle of a Caracas street for a week -- said they had to run away when his supporters came looking for them. The students had been chained to each other for eight days to demand the government to reveal more about the president's condition. "There were a lot of them and we immediately ran for our lives," Machado told AFP by telephone, adding that the group burned their foam mattresses and protest signs. 0222 GMT: In Argentina, Vice President Amado Boudou describes Chavez as a guiding light for the whole continent. "He was one of the best. We will always be "El Comandante". Together with Nestor (Kirchner, deceased former Argentine leader) he will guide us to the victory of the people". Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has still not made an official statement. 0214 GMT: Over in Buenos Aires, the Argentine government declares three days of national mourning for Chavez, during which time the national flag will remain hoisted to half-mast in all public buildings. 0211 GMT: CUBA DECLARES MOURNING FOR CHAVEZ, WHO THEY DESCRIBE AS A 'TRUE SON TO CASTRO' 0210 GMT: There appears to be some confusion over the political transition process, as a lawmaker from Chavez's PSUV party, had previously insisted that National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello must take the helm. "There is no power vacuum. The National Assembly with its president Diosdado Cabello must take power and later we will go without a doubt to an electoral process," Fernando Soto Rojas told state-run television, adding that he backed Maduro as an election candidate. 0159 GMT: The minister did not specify if the election would be held within 30 days or if the date would be chosen during that period. The announcement that Maduro will take the helm also appears to contradict the constitution, which says that the National Assembly president takes over the presidency if the president dies. 0155 GMT: More details are starting to trickle through from Caracas on the handover process. Foreign Minister Elias Jaua tells the state news channel Telesur that Maduro will take over as interim president and an election will be called within 30 days. "It is the mandate that comandante President Hugo Chavez gave us," he says, explaining that there was an "absolute absence" over the constitutional procedure to replace Chavez. 0153 GMT: Back in Quito, Maria de Lourdes Urbaneja -- the Venezuelan ambassador to Ecuador -- has thanked the crowd "Thank you for that love, for your solidarity with President Chavez, who during these [last few] days was accompanied by the Latinoamercianos," she says. 0152 GMT: Tearful Ecuadorians are also expressing their sadness at Chavez's death. In Quito, supporters of President Rafael Correa's Alliance Country (AP) movement are holding a candlelight vigil outside the Venezuelan embassy The mourners arrived carrying candles and Venezuelan and AP flags, according to AFP's Alexander Martinez. "Hugo Chavez is not died, is still living in the heart of the Latin American," shouted the mourners which included many Venezuelans. They were joined by several leaders from the ruling AP party. Correa has meanwhile suspended a visit to Guayaquil to return to Quito, where he plans to offer a statement on the death of his ally. 0136 GMT: Many of the mourners insist Chavez's revolutionary ideals will live on, even though he has passed away. "We feel that the father of our fatherland and many nations has just physically left us," said Francis Izquierdo, a 40-year-old municipal worker. "He was a man who taught us to love our fatherland. The comandante is physically gone but he remains in our hearts and we must continue building the fatherland," he said with tears in his eyes. "It was his deepest wish that we do not stop the revolution." Fellow mourner Ariani Rodriguez is wearing the late leader's trademark red color and hats issued by his socialist PSUV party. "My heart is broken as if a father or son had died," she says. 0133 GMT:Hundreds of grieving Venezuelans have congregated outside the military hospital where Chavez died, weeping and chanting "We are all Chavez!" after he lost his two-year battle with cancer. 0131 GMT: VENEZUELA VP MADURO TO BE SWORN IN AS INTERIM PRESIDENT, AND NEW ELECTIONS TO BE HELD IN 30 DAYS 0127 GMT: Emotional scenes in Caracas, as die-hard partisans are gathering at Plaza Bolivar -- named after the independence hero whose legacy Chavez co-opted for his Bolivarian Revolution -- weeping, waving portraits and chanting Chavez's name. 0115 GMT: More reaction is coming through from Latin America, where Chilean President Sebastian Pinera -- a conservative billionaire, praised him as "deeply committed to Latin America's integration" in tribute the Venezuelan leader's efforts to create the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). 0108 GMT: Chavez's body will lie in state for three days from Wednesday until the memorial service Friday, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said. Chavez's burial site has yet to be decided. 0052 GMT: VENEZUELA DECLARES SEVEN DAYS OF MOURNING FOR CHAVEZ; INVITES FOREIGN LEADERS TO MEMORIAL SERVICE FRIDAY 0049 GMT: News is beginning to filter through from Havana about how the death was announced... The state broadcaster broke into its regular television programming to announce his death -- and a percussion festival was called off as Cubans begin mourning Chavez. 0045 GMT: Chavez served as a role-model for many of Latin American's leftist leaders, and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa says his passing is an "irreparable loss" for the entire continent. Correa however predicted that "El Comandante" army of supporters would would proudly carry on his legacy. 0041 GMT: Bolivia's President Evo Morales was one of Chavez's closest allies, and said he was "crushed" by his friend's death and would soon travel to Caracas. "We are in pain. We are crushed," Morales says, before adding that the "liberation, not only of the Venezuelan people but also of Latin America's people broadly, must go on." 0035 GMT: Ex-Brazilian leader president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has joined other regional leaders and statesmen in mourning the death of Chavez. Lula shared many of Chavez's socialist ideals and fondly recalls the Venezuelan leader's struggle for a "more just world". 0030 GMT: One of Chavez's daughters, Maria Gabriela, has taken to Twitter to express her grief and thanks. "I'm lost for words. Eternally, THANK YOU! Strength! We must follow his example. We must continue building the FATHERLAND! Farewell my daddy!" the 32-year-old wrote. 0015 GMT:There isn't much love lost for Chavez on the Beltway, and Ed Royce -- the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- brands the former bellicose leader a "tyrant" who forced his people to live in fear. 0014 GMT: More reaction from Capitol Hill, where Robert Menendez -- the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- says Chavez had ruled Venezuela with an "iron hand" and left a "political void". 0004 GMT: British Foreign Secretary William Hague issues a statement from the Foreign Office, which is the first official reaction from London. "I was saddened to learn of the death of President Hugo Chavez today," Hague says. "As President of Venezuela for 14 years he has left a lasting impression on the country and more widely." 2359 GMT: AFP White House correspondent Michael Mathes (@MichaelMathes) tweets that House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce is not mincing his words over Chavez's death, saying: "Good riddance to this dictator." 2356 GMT: Perhaps ironically, Chavez has been outlived by his mentor, retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who is 86. "Fidel to me is a father, a comrade, a master of perfect strategy," Chavez said in 2005 in an interview with the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma. In return, Castro's Cuba received cheap oil from Venezuela's abundant supplies which helped keep its fragile economy going. The anti-US alliance remained firm after Fidel Castro stepped down in 2006 to be replaced by his brother Raul. It was in Cuba that Chavez received most of his treatment for cancer. The impact on Cuba of Chavez's death remains unclear but surely depends heavily on whether Maduro takes over from him, as he intended. 2346 GMT: Human Rights Watch has issued a stinging statement on Chavez's "authoritarian legacy". "Chavez?s presidency was characterized by a dramatic concentration of power and open disregard for basic human rights guarantees," it said. "By his second full term in office, the concentration of power and erosion of human rights protections had given the government free rein to intimidate, censor, and prosecute Venezuelans who criticized the president or thwarted his political agenda." 2333 GMT: And more on Obama's comments. He said the US was interested in a "constructive" future relationship with Venezuela -- this despite Chavez having cast the US as its major foe. "At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez's passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government," Obama said in a short written statement. "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." 2331 GMT: As reactions start coming in from around the world to Hugo Chavez's death, more on those comments from opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who Chavez defeated in last year's elections. "My solidarity is with the entire family and followers of President Hugo Chavez, we call for Venezuelan unity at this moment," Capriles wrote on Twitter. 2326 GMT: OBAMA SAYS US SUPPORTS VENEZUELAN PEOPLE IN 'NEW CHAPTER' AFTER CHAVEZ'S DEATH 2325 GMT: Former London mayor Ken Livingstone has also been using warm words to remember Chavez. On Twitter, he write: "Hugo Chavez showed there is an alternative to neo-liberalism and colonialism in Venezuela and worldwide. He was a friend and comrade." 2323 GMT: More now from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who has been reacting to news of Chavez's death. She called it "an irreparable loss" and hailed him as a "great Latin American" and "a friend of the Brazilian people." Rousseff led a minute's silence for him at a meeting in Brasilia and cancelled a trip to Argentina planned for Thursday. 2317 GMT: OPPOSITION LEADER URGES UNITY AFTER CHAVEZ'S DEATH 2316 GMT: Charismatic to some, acid tongued to others, Chavez certainly had the knack of coining memorable put-downs. Former US president George W. Bush was one of his favourite targets. In a speech to the UN General Assembly in 2006, he said of Bush: "Yesterday, the devil was here. Right here, and it still smells of sulfur." Earlier that year, Chavez called him a "coward", a "killer" and a "drunk" on his TV show. He also turned his barbs on Capriles, telling him in February 2012 ahead of elections later that year: "You have a pig's tail, a pig's ears, and you snort like a pig. You are a pig." 2310 GMT: BRAZIL'S PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF MOURNS CHAVEZ AS 'FRIEND OF BRAZIL' 2306 GMT: What now for Venezuela in the wake of Chavez's death? According to the country's constitution, elections must be held within 30 days and the speaker of the National Assembly takes over power on an interim basis. Before his death, Chavez had urged Venezuelans to vote for Maduro if he was unable to return to office. But Maduro, a former bus driver, is nowhere near as charismatic as Chavez. A new election could give Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in October, another shot at the presidency. Under the constitution, elections must be held within 30 days and National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello must take over on an interim basis, but Chavez had urged Venezuelans to vote for Maduro if he was unable to return. 2255 GMT: US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who represents areas including Miami, which has a large Latino population, has just issued a statement saying Chavez's death marks an opportunity for democracy in Venezuela. "Chavez misruled Venezuela with an iron grip on the government, economy and the courts as he routinely bullied the media and the opposition to deny the people of Venezuela their basic freedoms," she said. "Today, his death marks the end of this tyrannical rule but the road to democracy for the Venezuelan people is still very much uncertain." 2248 GMT: Earlier Tuesday, a clearly upset Maduro had accused Venezuela's "historic enemies" of causing Chavez's cancer. Two US Air Force officers have also been expelled from the US embassy in Caracas over claims that they sought out Venezuelan military officials to propose "destabilization projects." The US has rejected the conspiracy allegations as "absurd" but has yet to comment directly on the death of Chavez 2241 GMT: VENEZUELA'S ARMY VOWS TO FOLLOW THE CONSTITUTION AND CHAVEZ'S WISHES 2240 GMT: How will Chavez be remembered? "El Comandante" will be mourned by many of the country's poor, who revered him for using Venezuela's oil riches to fund popular housing, health, food and education programs. Latin American leaders like Cuba's Raul Castro, Ecuador's Rafael Correa and Bolivia's Evo Morales will recall his solidarity with them and his use of those oil riches to back them up. But opponents accused him of being a power-hungry despot who failed to tackle soaring crime rates and revelled in a cult of personality. He even hosted a weekend TV show called "Alo presidente". 2232 GMT: More on the news that Venezuela's army and police are being deployed in the wake of the death. VP Maduro, Chavez's chosen successor, said in a national television broadcast that the move had been taken "to accompany and protect our people and guarantee the peace." 2228 GMT: Chavez's death is already making waves on social media -- "MurioChavez" is trending on Twitter as opponents and supporters share reactions. 2225 GMT: Many observers had been raising questions about Chavez's health for months amid speculation about how ill he really was. He underwent his fourth round of cancer surgery since June 2011 in Cuba in December and disappeared from public view. He was only been seen in a few photos released last month, which showed him in his hospital bed, smiling with his two daughters at his side. The opposition had accused the government of lying about the true state his condition. Officials countered this by accusing them of spreading "absurdities" on Twitter. 2220 GMT: That move reflects the uncertainty that oil-rich Venezuela now faces following the death of its figurehead Chavez. He became the country's youngest-ever president in 1998 at age 44 and was also an icon for the radical left in South America. Snap elections are now in prospect. 2216 GMT: VENEZUELA DEPLOYS ITS ARMY AND POLICE FOLLOWING CHAVEZ'S DEATH, MADURO SAYS WELCOME TO AFP'S LIVE REPORT on the death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez at the age of 58. The iconic yet controversial leader's death was announced by Vice President Nicolas Maduro shortly after it was suffering from a severe infection following treatment for cancer. "We have received the hardest and most tragic news that... comandante President Hugo Chavez died today at 4:25 pm," Maduro announced on state television. Stay with us for all the reactions from around the world on this major breaking news story. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gestures during a demonstration in Caracas 23 August 2003, celebrating his second three-year government. Chavez passed away on March 5, 2013 in Caracas after a long fight with cancer, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced. Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wave a huge national flag outside the Military Hospital in Caracas, on March 5, 2013. Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez light candles while gathering in front of the Venezuelan embassy in Santiago, Chile, on March 5, 2013. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa offer his condolences in Quito, after the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on March 5, 2013. Members of the Venezuelan Army walk in front of the Military Hospital in Caracas on March 5, 2013, after Hugo Chavez's death was announced. Chavez lost his battle with cancer, silencing the leading voice of the Latin American left and plunging his divided oil-rich nation into an uncertain future. Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gather in front of the Military Hospital in Caracas on March 5, 2013, after hearing of their leader's death. Chavez lost his battle with cancer, silencing the leading voice of the Latin American left and plunging his divided oil-rich nation into an uncertain future. This file picture shows Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez making the 'v' sign after a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the presidential palace in Caracas on August 24, 2011 during the latter's official visit to the country. Chavez passed away on March 5, 2013 in Caracas after a long fight with cancer.