Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, has succumbed to cancer. After weeks of speculation that the socialist strongman had returned home to die, Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced that the 58-year old died at 4:45 p.m. local time, leaving behind a questionable legacy on human rights. His death paves the way for new elections in Venezuela within 30 days.
Chavez, a former tank commander who ruled Venezuela for 14 years and was recently reelected to a fourth term, made a career of demonizing the United States, capitalists, right-wingers, and centrists in his oil-rich country. He virtually nationalized the oil industry, muzzled the independent news media, and silenced his opponents through taxes and executive decrees. The socialist strongman re-framed the Venezuelan Constitution to expand his power and further weaken his opponents. While many of Venezuela's poor praised him for taking wealth from the country's elitists and distributing it to them, the end of his tenure has been marked by rampant crime and economic troubles.
The foreign policy legacy of Hugo Chavez is marked by his vocal anti-Americanism and his embrace of many of the world's worst human rights abusers. From Muammar Gaddafi to Bashar al-Assad, from Iran to North Korea, Hugo Chavez has constantly stood lonely by the side the world's real-life villains — discrediting his own movement in the process.
Per the Venezuelan constitution, an election must be held within 30 days of a vacancy in office. Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's handpicked successor, will ride a wave of public sympathy to try continue the leftist leader's mission. Henrique Capriles, the charismatic opposition leader who squared off with Chavez last year, will likely be the opposition nominee once more. Expect the next month to be a great struggle between the future of Venezuela and the legacy of Hugo Chavez.