Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has died after a two-year battle with cancer, ending the socialist leader's 14-year rule of the South American country. The news was announced by Vice President Nicolas Maduro in a televised speech late on Tuesday afternoon.
The flamboyant 58-year-old leader had undergone four operations in Cuba for a cancer that was first detected in his pelvic region in mid-2011. His last surgery was on December 11 and he had not been seen in public since.
"It's a moment of deep pain," Maduro, accompanied by senior ministers, said, his voice choking.
Now the question rises: Who will replace Chavez?
Chavez had told supporters they should consider his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, as his successor ... a process that began handing over the reins of power.
That process, though, was incomplete.
Under the Venezuelan constitution, the vice president does not automatically take over. Rather, should the president be unable to take office or leave in the first four years of his term, an election must be held within 30 days.
Vice President Maduro is Chavez's most trusted acolyte, but he is not the regime's most powerful man. That would be National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, a former military friend of Chávez since their days in the academy. He is the leader of the all-powerful military and he is among the wealthiest man in Venezuela. In contrast, Maduro is the natural successor to the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela): he is a civilian, a steadfast socialist and a close friend with Cuba’s Castros.
Cabello has no close ties with Cuba, and many doubt if he is a sincere socialist at all. His military coalition is begrudged at the Cuban intervention in Venezuela, whereas Maduro represents the far left-wing of chavismo, and one of Cuba’s closest allies.
An election could pit both men against each other.
Chavez's death, then, leaves a number of questions unanswered.