Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller called Chávez “a sincere, jovial, and a very vociferous and committed leader in the defense of the rights and welfare of the most marginalized and vulnerable in the society.”
“I will miss him dearly,” she said. “Long live my friend. Long live Mr. President. Gone but not forgotten.”
U.S. President Barack Obama was more circumspect.
“At this challenging time of President Hugo Chávez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government,” he said in a 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.”
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said Chávez’s death presents an opportunity for Venezuelans to “emerge from this oppressive regime and regain their democracy and human rights.”
“Chávez 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,” said Ros-Lehtinen, former chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Today his death marks the end of this tyrannical rule but the road to democracy for the Venezuelan people is still very much uncertain.”
Chávez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro had a tight and long-running relationship. Chávez supported the island’s economy with subsidized oil and it was there that he went to get his cancer treatment. On Tuesday, Cuba declared three days of mourning and called him “one of its most prominent sons.”
“Chávez is also Cuban!” the government said in a statement read on Cuban television. “He felt our pain and problems and did everything he could, with extraordinary generosity.”
Chávez first shot to fame in 1992 when he and other mid-ranking military officers tried to overthrow President Carlos Andrés Pérez. But the charismatic tank commander finally captured the presidency through the ballot box in 1999 and began rolling out social programs that made him a hero to the poor.
News of the death capped a chaotic day of heightened tensions in Venezuela, where Maduro accused U.S. diplomats of conspiring against the country and suggested Chávez’s enemies may have given him the disease.
During a cabinet and military meeting earlier Tuesday, Maduro accused U.S. Embassy Air Attaché Col. David Delmonaco of trying to infiltrate the armed forces.
“This official has taken on the task of looking for active Venezuelan military [officials] to propose projects to destabilize the armed forces,” Maduro said.
The U.S. State Department confirmed that Delmonaco and Devlin Kostal, the assistant air attaché, were both being expelled from the country.
The move drew a harsh rebuke from Washington.
“We completely reject the Venezuelan government’s claim that the United States is involved in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement. “Notwithstanding the significant differences between our governments, we continue to believe it important to seek a functional and more productive relationship with Venezuela based on issues of mutual interest. This fallacious assertion of inappropriate U.S. action leads us to conclude that, unfortunately, the current Venezuelan government is not interested in an improved relationship.”