- (Reuters/Jorge Silva)
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has died following a severe respiratory infection that had made his condition "very delicate," the government announced.
"It's a moment of deep pain," announced Vice President Nicolas Maduro, accompanied by senior ministers, trying to hold back tears, Reuters reported. "We must unite now more than ever," he added, revealing that funeral plans for Chavez would be announced later.
The controversial socialist leader, who was recovering from cancer treatment, was said on Tuesday to be in deteriorating health, with his supporters in Venezuela greatly worried, The Associated Press shared.
"The commander-president remains clinging to Christ and to life, conscious of the difficulties that he is facing, and complying strictly with the program designed by his medical team," Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said earlier to state TV on Tuesday.
Chavez, 58, whose exact form of cancer was unknown, returned in February from an extended period of treatment in Cuba. Reports revealed that he would continue his treatment at a military hospital in Venezuela, where he would continue leading the country as much as his strength allowed.
Villegas noted, however, that the president had been undergoing "chemotherapy of strong impact" and that his condition was "very delicate."
Reuters revealed that many of Chavez' supporters, who re-elected him as president in October, were very worried about the president's condition, and some in the medical field predicted on Tuesday that he did not have too much time left.
"There is so much sadness and confusion," said Marisol Aponte, a community worker in Caracas. "But we must be strong and put into practice all that he has taught us."
"We are worried because he does not appear. The truth is that I don't know what's happening," added a man identified as Rodriguez, a Chavez supporter.
Dr. Carlos Castro, scientific director of the Colombian League Against Cancer in Bogota, Colombia, shared that "it's difficult to predict" when Chavez might die, but offered that "it's a matter of days."
Although Chavez had many supporters in Venezuela and had been vocal about his Roman Catholic faith, he was seen by many as a very controversial figure for his public and foreign policies. He had nationalized the country's lucrative oil industry, angering many foreign companies and the international community, and his administration was said to crack down violently on those opposed to his leadership.
During a 2006 speech at the United Nations, Chavez called former U.S. President George W. Bush "the devil," saying that America engaged in "domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world." He had also been accused by The Human Rights Watch of eroding human rights and abusing his powers during his 14 year rule of the South American country.
Chavez had nominated Maduro to take charge should he be unable to complete his term, though the Venezuelan parliament will now hold a new election to determine the country's next leader.