- (Photo:Reuters/ Stringer)
President Barack Obama and leaders from around the world have spoken out following the death of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, reflecting on the controversies that made him a hero to some but a dictator to others.
"At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez's passing," Obama said in a statement on Tuesday, "the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government."
Chavez, who was 58 years old when he passed away at a hospital in his homeland, had been recovering from cancer treatment in Cuba, where he spent New Year's. The outspoken Roman Catholic leader often shared of his faith and placed his trust in Jesus Christ, and was adored by many supporters in Venezuela who saw him as a voice for the poor for his policies that sought economic stability.
Many others saw him as a controversial leader, however, and he enjoyed a strenuous relationship with the United States. During a 2006 speech at the United Nations, Chavez called former U.S. President George W. Bush "the devil," accusing America of engaging in "domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world."
The Human Rights Watch group also accused him of eroding human rights and abusing his powers during his 14-year rule of the South American country.
In his statement, Obama did not address Chavez's controversial past, but chose to focus on the future for Venezuela.
"As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history," Obama said, "the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights."
Many in South America, like Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, praised Chavez and said that he was a great "friend" of the country.
"This death should fill all Latin and Central Americans with sadness," Rousseff said, according to the BBC. "Hugo Chavez was without doubt a leader committed to his country and to the development of the people of Latin America."
Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, said in a Twitter message: "I profoundly lament the death of the president of Venezuela Hugo Chávez Frías. Our sincere condolences." MSN News noted that Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia all sent notes of condolences to Venezuela.
Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, described Chavez' passing as a "tragedy," and said that he was "a great politician."
In America, some political figures and former presidents praised Chavez for his policies that helped the poor. Chavez was born to a working lower-middle class family before rising up the political scale and staging an unsuccessful coup d'état in 1992, for which he was jailed for two years, but then formed the Venezuelan social democratic party, with which he successfully won the presidency in 1999.
"There are close to two million people in the United States who received free heating assistance, thanks to President Chavez's leadership," said Joseph P. Kennedy II, chairman of nonprofit Citizens Energy.
"Our prayers go out to President Chavez's family, the people of Venezuela, and all who were warmed by his generosity."
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter added that the Venezuelan president "will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments."
Other voices, however, highlighted the controversies behind Chavez's administration and for his open disdain of unregulated capitalism.
"Chavez openly hated the United States and opposed any effort to spread freedom, democracy and free markets to Latin America," said pro-troops charity group Move America Forward in a statement.
Conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post blasting the support for Chavez and calling him "one of the most noxious figures in the hemisphere" as she accused him of supporting Iran and domestic repression.
"President Obama never bothered to mention Chavez's deplorable record of trying to meddle in and destabilize democratic governments," Rubin wrote. "And then there was his support for terrorist groups."
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed that Chavez was a dictator:
"Hugo Chavez was a tyrant who forced the people of Venezuela to live in fear. His death dents the alliance of anti-U.S. leftist leaders in South America. Good riddance to this dictator," Royce said in a statement.
Venezuela Vice President Nicolas Manduro, a candidate to succeed Chavez when a new election is called in 30 days time, told the people that now is the time for love, not violence.
"Let there be no weakness, no violence. Let there be no hate. In our hearts there should only be one sentiment: Love. Love, peace and discipline," Manduro told to a nation in mourning on Wednesday.
Chavez is survived by four children from two marriages, and several grandchildren.