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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dead at 58

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, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said in a televised speech.

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 Dec. 11 and he had not been seen in public since.

“At 4:25 in the afternoon (local time), today, 5th of March, Comandante President Hugo Chavez Frias died,” Maduro, accompanied by senior ministers, said, his voice choking.

Shortly after the announcement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed his condolence and offered a message of hope for the future of the people of Venezuela.

“I would like to offer my condolences to the people of Venezuela on the passing of President Chávez,” said Harper. “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.”

Chavez easily won a new 6-year term at an election in October and his death will devastate millions of supporters who adored his charismatic style, anti-U.S. rhetoric and oil-financed policies that brought subsidized food and free health clinics to long-neglected slums.

Detractors, however, saw his one-man style, gleeful nationalizations and often harsh treatment of opponents as evidence of an egotistical dictator whose misplaced statist economics wasted a historic bonanza of oil revenues.

Chavez’s death paves the way for a new election that will test whether his socialist “revolution” can live on without his dominant personality at the helm.

– with files from CityNews