Venezuela's Chavez remembered as polarizing figure

Some marked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's death with tears; others with cheers. There was deep mourning in Latin America, condolences from Europe and Asia, and from Iran's president, predictions of great works in the afterlife.

Thousands flock to Caracas streets as Chavez's body moved to military academy

Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who died Tuesday after a battle with an undisclosed type of cancer, react to the announcement of his death. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Some marked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's death with tears; others with cheers. There was deep mourning in Latin America, condolences from Europe and Asia, and from Iran's president, predictions of great works in the afterlife.

'Chavez is more alive than ever.'—Bolivian President Evo Morales

U.S. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, focused on "a new chapter" for Venezuela, following 14 years in which Chavez cast himself as bulwark against American domination.

Chavez, who died Tuesday, was seen as a hero by some for his socialist programs, his anti-U.S. rhetoric, and gifts of cut-rate oil. Others considered him a bully who repressed his opponents.

Tens of thousands Venezuelans thronged to the streets of Caracas after the government announced Chavez's death early Tuesday evening. Many stayed Wednesday morning to watch as the late president's body was moved from the military hospital where he died to a military academy where it will lie in state until Friday's funeral.

Already, the presidents of Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia have arrived for the funeral.

"His legacy has two faces," Venezuelan journalist Mary Triny Mena told CBC News. Some Venezuelans saw Chavez as a hero who understood the needs of the poor, launching several initiatives to help the impoverished. But his time in power, she said, was marked by a disrespect of basic human rights.

Human Rights Watch, an organization working to protect human rights, said in a statement following Chavez's death that his presidency was characterized by "open disregard for basic human rights guarantees."

Condolences come from Chavez's allies

A teary-eyed Bolivian President Evo Morales, one of Chavez's closest allies and most loyal disciples, declared that "Chavez is more alive than ever."

"Chavez will continue to be an inspiration for all peoples who fight for their liberation," Morales said Tuesday in a televised speech. "Chavez will always be present in all the regions of the world and all social sectors. Hugo Chavez will always be with us, accompanying us."

Chinese President Hu Jintao, who steps down this month, and his replacement, Xi Jinping, sent condolence letters to Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, the interim president ahead of new elections.

"President Chavez was a great leader of Venezuela and a good friend to the Chinese people," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily media briefing. "He made significant contributions to the friendly co-operative relationship between China and Venezuela."

In its quest to secure resources for its fast-growing economy over the past decade, China has forged a useful friendship with Chavez centred on oil. Tens of billions of dollars in Chinese loans, repayable in oil, helped fund social programs and consumer goods giveaways that made Chavez popular. His anti-American policies and posturing was also looked upon positively by some in Beijing, though Chinese leaders were careful not to show public support.

In Cuba, President Raul Castro's government declared two days of national mourning and ordered the flag to fly at half-staff.

"It is with deep and excruciating sorrow that our people and the revolutionary government have learned of President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias' decease," it said in a statement read on the nightly state TV newscast. "The Cuban people view him as one of their most outstanding sons."

Some islanders worried that the loss of the country's No. 1 ally, who has sent billions of dollars of oil to Cuba at preferential terms, could have a negative ripple effect there.

"It's a very tough blow. ... Now I wonder, what is to become of us?" said Maite Sierra, a 72-year-old Havana resident.

"It's troubling what could come now, first for Venezuela but also for Cuba," said Sergio Duran, a Havana resident. "Everything will depend on what happens in Venezuela, but in any case it will never be the same as with Chavez, even if Chavez's party wins" in upcoming elections.

A wistful Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador and another of Chavez's closest allies, predicted Chavez would have a lasting influence. "We have lost a revolutionary, but millions of us remain inspired."

American-Venezuelans hope for change

Venezuelans in the U.S. cheered and expressed cautious optimism that new elections will bring change to their homeland after Chavez's death.

"My hope is that Venezuela will become a free country once again," said Elizabeth Gonazalez, 52, who wore a smiley face sticker on her sweater with the words, "Venezuela without Chavez."

A jubilant celebration broke out in the Miami suburb of Doral late Tuesday after word spread of the death of the 58-year-old leftist. Many dressed in caps and T-shirts in Venezuela's colours of yellow, blue and red.

A crowd sings and waves the Venezuelan flag Tuesday at a local Doral, Florida restaurant following the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. (Robert Sullivan/Reuters)

"He's gone!" dozens in the largely anti-Chavez community chanted.

Many in Florida's large Venezuelan community and other such pockets around the U.S. are stridently anti-Chavez and had fled their home country in response to the policies his government instituted. An estimated 189,219 Venezuelan immigrants live in the United States, according to U.S. Census figures. In addition to Florida, there are sizable Venezuelan communities in Los Angeles and New York.

Doral has the largest concentration of Venezuelans living in the U.S.

The restaurant El Arepazo is at the heart of the community and hundreds of Venezuelans gathered at its tables to watch news broadcasts of the death coverage while getting their fill of corn flour patties called arepas.

A large number of professionals and others left their country beginning after Chavez became president in 1999. Many did not agree with his socialist government, became frightened of soaring crime or simply sought better fortunes abroad.

"This is a relief, frankly," said Maria Teresa van der Ree, 81, president and founder of the Civil Resistance of Venezuelans Abroad, a non-profit group. "We could not live with this any longer."

Van der Ree, who now lives in New Haven, Conn., said she has not been in Venezuela since 2001. She has two sisters still living there.

"I hope now I can go to Venezuela," she said.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said in statement the Chavez's death marks a challenging time for Venezuela. He said the U.S. is committed to promoting democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law.

Chavez's inner circle has long claimed the U.S. government was behind a failed a 2002 attempt to overthrow him, and he has frequently played the anti-American card to stir up support.

Others, meanwhile, mourned Chavez's death.

Former U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy II recalled that Chavez and the people of Venezuela donated 200 million gallons of heating oil to Citizens Energy, which distributes oil to lower income families in 25 states and Washington, D.C.

Kennedy, who heads Citizens Energy, said Chavez cared about the poor. A nephew of President John F. Kennedy, he said his prayers go out to Chavez's family and the Venezuelan people.

U.S. adversaries praise Chavez

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, like Chavez a frequent U.S. adversary, announced a day of mourning and compared Chavez to a saint, saying he will "return on resurrection day."

Ecuador's supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gather Tuesday outside Venezuela's embassy in Quito after the announcement of his death. (Kevin Granja/Reuters)

Ahmadinejad said he has "no doubt Chavez will return to Earth together with Jesus and the perfect" Imam Mahdi, the most revered figure of Shia's Muslims, and help the two "establish peace, justice and kindness" in the world. He said he believes something "suspicious" caused the cancer that killed Chavez.

In Asia, people felt a sense of loss in countries including Vietnam. "Chavez had a very strong character," civil servant Nguyen Van Ngoc said in Hanoi. "The United States tried to exert influence in Latin America, but it couldn't do anything to countries like Venezuela and Cuba."

China's Internet, its freest court of public opinion, crackled with praise for Chavez for standing up to the U.S. and for his socialist policies.

"Chavez and the '21st century socialism' he advocated was a big bright spot after drastic changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe sunk the world socialist movement in a low ebb, and he was known as an 'anti-American standard-bearer," Zhu Jidong of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' World Socialism Research Center wrote on his feed on Sina Corporation's Twitter-like microblog service. "Mourn this great fighter."

Canada looks to the future

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered condolences to Venezuela's people and said he hopes Chavez's death brings hope of a better future.

"At this key juncture, I hope the people of Venezuela can now build for themselves a better, brighter future based on the principles of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights," Harper said in a statement.

Opposition leader Tom Mulcair echoed the prime minister's sentiments.

"I simply hope — like everyone does — that the people of Venezuela are able democratically to find stability and prosperity for themselves," he told reporters when asked how he hopes Chavez is remembered.

Former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien remembered him fondly on CBC-TV's Power and Politics.

"He was a very colourful politician who had very different policies than many of us, but I had the privilege to meet him many times," Chrétien said.

"He did his best, even if we did not agree many times on the issues."

With files from CBC News