Death of Hugo Chávez

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Death and state funeral of Hugo Chávez
Hugo Chavez hearse.jpg
Hearse carrying Hugo Chávez's remains
Date5 March 2013; 9 years ago (2013-03-05)
LocationCaracas, Venezuela
BurialCuartel de la Montaña (es)

Hugo Chávez, the 45th President of Venezuela, died on 5 March 2013 at 16:25 VET (20:55 UTC) in Caracas, Venezuela from cancer at the age of 58. His death triggered a presidential election which was constitutionally required to be called within 30 days.

Chávez was first elected as president in 1998 and was re-elected in 2000, 2006 and finally in 2012. However, Chávez was unable to be sworn in for a fourth term after the 2012 election due to his illness.

Illness and death[edit]

Chávez walking with a cane accompanied by Rafael Correa in Caracas in July 2011, shortly after his first cancer surgery.

Chávez was diagnosed with cancer following the discovery of a mass in his pelvic region in June 2011. He traveled to Havana, Cuba where he underwent a surgical operation to remove a malignant cancerous tissue mass 'about the size of a baseball' from his waist. He underwent a second surgical operation in Venezuela one month later. Over the next 12 months, he followed a cycle of chemotherapy. The type of cancer Chávez was diagnosed with was never made public which fueled speculation over his condition (with speculations from being prostate cancer to colon cancer among others). Following the presidential election in October 2012 (where he was re-elected to a fourth term), he went to Cuba for more treatment and then returned to Venezuela and stayed at a Caracas army hospital for one week until his death. Successive announcements of his return and updates of his health were criticised by the country's opposition that the population were unaware of his health and location. The fact that the cancer had metastasised was not made public during the re-election campaign, and strongly denied by Government officers. After the first lung infection (pneumonia) in the last stages of his life, Chávez was intubated nearing the end of December. His breathing worsened until his death was announced at 16:25 VET (20:55 UTC) on 5 March 2013, almost two years after he was first diagnosed.[citation needed]

Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced Chávez's death on a mandatory television cadena (a decree forcing all broadcasters to relay State television content).[1] In an emotional eulogy Maduro said: "Let there be no weakness, no violence. Let there be no hate. In our hearts there should only be one feeling: Love."[2] Maduro indicated that Chávez had died "after battling a tough illness for nearly two years."[1] He added that police and troops would be deployed across the country 'to guarantee the peace.' The head of the presidential guard said Chávez died of a massive heart attack after great suffering and had inaudibly mouthed his desire to live. In an interview to the Associated Press he said that Chávez could not speak but he said it with his lips ... "I don't want to die. Please don't let me die".[3] The BBC reported isolated incidents of violence following the announcement of Chávez's death. Although pro-Chavez supporters attacked and burned tents of students who had camped demanding more official information about Chávez's health, there were no reported injuries.[2] Vice President Maduro indicated he had "no doubt" of foul play by "the historical enemies of our fatherland" behind Chávez's illness and death.[1] Defence Minister Diego Morelo Bellavia[4] said that the "Bolivarian" armed forces would be loyal to the vice president and National Assembly and urged supporters and opposition to remain calm.[2]

Early death rumours[edit]

After defecting from Venezuela, former bodyguard for Chávez, Leamsy Salazar, stated that he died in December 2012, nearly three months before the 5 March 2013 date was officially announced.[5]

In July 2018, former Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz also said that Chávez had actually died in December 2012 and the announcement of his death was delayed for political reasons. In an interview cited by Venezuelan daily El Nacional, the former Chávez supporter said that the Venezuelan president died on 28 December 2012, but his closest allies decided to delay the announcement and never submitted the death certificate to the Office of the Attorney General.[6]

The supposed delay in announcing Chávez's death raised concerns that laws signed in his name during that period were forged for political purposes.[5]



Venezuelan flag at half-mast in mourning for the death of President Chávez

Thousands of people flooded the streets of the capital Caracas. Many cried and hugged in public shows of emotion. Women were weeping at Miraflores Palace. With a mixture of joy and sadness Chávez supporters shared their impressions after him a last farewell: "That man emanates a force forward and his face says my people.".[7] People left work for the day upon hearing the news, shops and offices shut and cars and buses filled the streets.[8]

Opposition leader and opponent in the 2012 election, Henrique Capriles, called on the government to "act in strict accordance with its constitutional duties." He also added his condolences to Chávez's family saying "we were adversaries, but never enemies".[2] Acting President Nicolás Maduro said he believed Chávez was assassinated by Venezuela's "historical enemies" (widely assumed to mean the United States), and that a "scientific commission" would investigate this possibility. The US State Department denied any American involvement in Chávez's death, calling the claim "absurd".[9]

On the first anniversary of Chavez's death on 6 March 2014, tens of thousands of his supporters marched through cities across Venezuela. This was coupled with the 2014 Venezuelan protests featuring pro and anti-government demonstrations.[10]


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office issued a statement expressing condolences.[11]

Reactions within the Americas by citizens occurred outside Venezuela's embassies in Honduras, El Salvador, Chile and Ecuador.

Latin America and the Caribbean[edit]

OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza ordered the body's flags to be flown at half-mast and the convening of a special meeting of the Permanent Council in memory of Chávez.[12]

After announcing Hugo Chávez's death, Bolivian president Evo Morales broke down and cried on national television while paying tribute to Chávez;[13] Morales then decreed seven days of mourning in Bolivia after Chávez's death.[14] Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, who had cancelled a scheduled trip to Argentina to meet President Kirchner, led a minute of silence in Brasília.[15] Rousseff decreed three days of mourning.[15] Rousseff's predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also expressed grief.[16][17] Salvadorian president Mauricio Funes and Chilean president Sebastián Piñera both praised Chávez's strong character,[18] and the Chilean government declared three days of national mourning for Chávez.[19]

The Cuban Council of State decreed two days of official mourning, from 6 am on 6 March to midnight 7 March, and a third day of national mourning on 8 March.[14][20][21] The presidents of Dominican Republic, Haiti,[22] Uruguay and Ecuador all decreed three days of mourning for Chávez.[21][23]

Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega declared seven days of mourning.[24] Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos,[25] Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto[citation needed] lamented the death of Chávez; The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release expressing condolences and "our feeling of fraternity".[26] Colombia ordered its 15 consulates in Venezuela temporarily closed to observe the days of mourning. Guyanese president Donald Ramotar,[27] Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina,[28] and the President of Suriname Desi Bouterse regretted losing a "friend". The Government of Suriname declared Friday a day of national mourning. Ramotar and Honduran president Porfirio Lobo praised Chavez for his contribution to regional integration; the National Congress of Honduras addressed a minute of silence.[29]

Trinidad and Tobago[30] and Jamaica said that special arrangements would be made for an official tribute to Chávez.[31] Uruguay announced that President José Mujica was in Argentina for a summit when Chávez died, but that he would fly to Caracas with Argentine President Cristina Kirchner to attend the funeral.[32] Argentina declared three days of mourning[32][33] Suriname declared Friday a day of mourning.

North America[edit]

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper offered his condolences;[34] former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien eulogised in a televised interview.[18]

Suggestions of American foul play,[1][35] implying that Chávez had been poisoned or somehow infected with cancer (arguing a plot reminiscent to the Yasser Arafat death controversy and the attempts against Fidel Castro),[36][37][38] were vehemently denied by the U.S. Department of State as "absurd".[39]

In Miami, some Venezuelans[quantify] joyfully celebrated Chavez's death, and were cautiously optimistic of new elections for Chávez's successor; an estimated 189,219 Venezuelans live in the United States, most of whom are anti-Chavez.[40] United States President Barack Obama reaffirmed the support of the US for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government.[18] Former president Jimmy Carter complimented Chávez's commitment to improving the lives of Venezuelans. According to a statement posted at the Carter Center website, Carter and his wife Rosalynn "came to know a man who expressed a vision to bring profound changes to his country to benefit especially those people who had felt neglected and marginalized."[41]


Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who chairs the African Union Commission, conveyed her condolence to the family, government and people of Venezuela.[42] The organisation observed a minute of silence at the A.U. headquarters on 8 March during the celebration of the International Women's Day.[43]

Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Gambian president Yahya Jammeh,[44] Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz,[45] Sahrawi Republic president Mohamed Abdelaziz,[46] South African president Jacob Zuma,[47] Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir,[48] Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete,[49] all expressed their sorrow and offered their "deepest condolences". Gambia's president Yahya Jammeh proclaimed two national prayer days at mosques and churches for Chavez, on 8 and 10 March 2013.[44] The Sahrawi government declared a day of national mourning.[50]


Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai,[51] President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan,[52] Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev,[53] Chinese president Hu Jintao and Communist Party of China general secretary Xi Jinping, deputy director-general of the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry Calvin Ho,[54] Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh issued statements of "heartfelt condolences".[55]

Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas,[56] Turkmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov[57] Vietnamese leaders – including Party general secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng, Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, and National Assembly chairman Nguyễn Sinh Hùng – also expressed condolences; some lauded Chavez's achievements.[58] Memorial services were scheduled to be held in Ramallah and other cities in the West Bank and senior Palestinian officials paid their respects at the Venezuelan Embassy in Ramallah.[56] In Gaza City streets were decorated with Venezuelan flags and posters of Chavez.[59] Hamas, the de facto government of the Gaza Strip, lauded Chávez as a "great leader";[59] The Syrian Arab News Agency paid homage to Chávez for taking "an honourable stance regarding the conspiracy against Syria".[60] Iran declared a day of national mourning.[61]


French president François Hollande[62] and British foreign secretary William Hague were "saddened".[18] Irish president Michael D. Higgins sent condolences,[63] Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams also paid tribute.[63] Italian president Giorgio Napolitano was "painful".[64] The Spanish government extended its condolences,[65] as did Portuguese president Aníbal Cavaco Silva sent condolences,[66] whilst Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt stated that Chávez "undeniably affected his country and the entire region" and hoped for greater democracy and respect for human rights in Venezuela;[67] Foreign minister Carl Bildt criticized his policies,[citation needed] saying that Chávez had "plunder[ed] the oil wealth of [his] country".[67]

President of Russia Vladimir Putin and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev expressed their "sincere condolences".[68][69] Russia would send a delegation consisting of Rosneft president Igor Sechin, Trade and Industry minister Denis Manturov, Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov, Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.[70] Serbian president Tomislav Nikolić and prime minister Ivica Dačić sent condolences and lamented the loss of "a friend". Serbian cabinet also announced that he had been posthumously honoured with the Order of the Republic of Serbia[71] Belarus declared three days of mourning[72]

In the Vatican, a condolence letter was read during a meeting of Cardinals prior to the Papal Conclave, during the sede vacante.

In the European Union, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that they had received the news of Chávez's death with "sadness."[73]


Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr[74] and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key expressed condolences "to the Chavez family and the people of Venezuela".[75] However, Key, who was on a diplomatic trip to Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Brazil, did not attend the funeral although meetings had been postponed due to Latin American leaders attending, and was criticized by ex-Greens MP Keith Locke, Toby Manhire and others.[76]


Chávez's funeral procession

Foreign minister Elías Jaua decreed seven days of mourning for Chávez.[77] Chávez's body was taken to the Military Academy in Caracas on 6 March 2013, accompanied by large numbers of supporters who joined the procession at the military parade grounds (the Heroes Avenue) and was left lying in state for the public to visit for three days. The state funeral was held in Caracas on 8 March 2013.[1][78][79] Acting President Nicolás Maduro originally stated that Chávez's body would be embalmed and permanently displayed after the state funeral in a transparent sarcophagus at a military museum in the former site of the Military Academy in La Planicie Barracks at the 23 de Enero district west of the city proper.[80][81] However, due to difficulties in finding an expert and the uncertainties of plastination in which the weather plays a substantial part, Maduro announced that the body would not be embalmed in time.[82] President Maduro extended national mourning from 4 to 11 days to coincide with the transportation of the body to the military museum (now Museum of the Revolution) at La Planicie Barracks, which was renamed Mountain Barracks as it was, not by accident, the place which the then Army LtCol Chavez captured and used as a command centre in the brief coup of 1992, and where he uttered his famous words "Por ahora" (For now) to the press.

For the final arrangements a funeral service was arranged, with the casket leaving the Military Academy grounds in Fort Tiuna on 17 March 2013 under full military honours including references to Ltn. Cnl. Chavez's home battalion (the Apure Braves 414th Armored Battalion) with the marching song "Patria Querida" (Fatherland Beloved) played in slow time, a 21-gun salute, and a Military Aviation (formerly Venezuelan Air Force) flyover by Sukhoi Su-30 fighters in a missing man formation. Government party militias in their light motorcycles followed the motorcade (itself surrounded by Army mounted guards) with a large following of (mostly poor) citizens, with final arrival honors paid upon arrival at the Mountain Barracks.[citation needed] Bolivian President Evo Morales, President Maduro (then interim) and Chavez's brother Adan and daughter Maria Gabiela each gave speeches before the flag folding and dedication ceremony. The national flag covering the casket was handed to Elena Frías de Chávez, the late President's mother, on behalf of the armed forces and the nation.

Foreign dignitary attendees[edit]

The funeral was attended by 23 heads of state, 10 heads of government, a Crown Prince, 2 first ladies, 23 governmental representatives, 5 multilateral leaders, 4 foreign ministers and 4 former presidents. In total, 50 countries were represented at the event.

Heads of state and government
 Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer[83]
 Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
 Aruba Prime Minister Michiel Godfried Eman[84]
 Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko[85]
 Bolivia President Evo Morales[86]
 Brazil President Dilma Rousseff
 Chile President Sebastián Piñera[86]
 Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos[87]
 Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla[83]
 Cuba President Raúl Castro[86]
 Curaçao Prime Minister Daniel Hodge[88]
 Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit[83]
 Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina[88]
 Ecuador President Rafael Correa[86]
 El Salvador President Mauricio Funes[86]
 Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang[89]
 Guatemala President Otto Pérez Molina[86]
 Guyana President Donald Ramotar[83]
 Haiti President
Prime Minister
Michel Martelly[88]
Laurent Lamothe[88]
 Honduras President Porfirio Lobo Sosa[83]
 Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad[citation needed]
 Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller[88]
 Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto[88]
 Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega[citation needed]
 Panama President Ricardo Martinelli[86]
 Peru President Ollanta Humala[86]
 Saint Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Denzil Douglas[88]
 Saint Lucia Prime Minister Kenny Anthony[88]
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves[83]
 Suriname President Dési Bouterse[88]
 Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar[88]
 Uruguay President José Mujica[90]
Government representatives
 People's Republic of China President's Special Envoy Zhang Ping[91]
 Colombia Foreign Minister
Mayor of Bogotá
María Ángela Holguín[92]
Gustavo Petro
 Equatorial Guinea First Lady Constancia Mangue de Obiang[93]
 France Minister of Overseas France Victorin Lurel
 Guadeloupe Guadeloupe R.C. president Josette Borel-Lincertin
 Grenada Foreign minister Nicholas Steele
 India Corporate Affairs Minister Sachin Pilot[94]
 Netherlands Minister of State Hans van den Broek[95]
 Portugal Minister of State and Foreign Minister Paulo Portas[96]
 Russia Foreign Minister
Federation Council Speaker
Trade and Industry Minister
Sergey Lavrov
Valentina Matviyenko
Denis Manturov[97]
 Sahrawi Republic President's Special Envoy, Minister Delegate for Latin America Hach Ahmed Baricalla[50]
 Spain Crown Prince Felipe, Prince of Asturias[98]
 Nicaragua First Lady Rosario Murillo[citation needed]
 Syria Minister of Presidential Affairs Mansour Fadlallah Azzam[99]
 Turkey Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay[100]
 United Kingdom Ambassador Catherine Nettleton
 United States Chargé d'affaires, Caracas
James M. Derham[98]
Gregory Meeks
  Vatican City Bishop of San Cristóbal Mario Moronta[101]
 Vietnam Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai
Heads of multilateral organizations
 European Union Head of delegation, Caracas Antonio Cardoso Mota
 Organization of American States Secretary General José Miguel Insulza[102]
 Union of South American Nations Secretary General Ali Rodriguez Araque
 United Nations Executive Secretary of ECLAC Alicia Bárcena Ibarra[102]
Inter-American Development Bank President Luis Alberto Moreno[102]
Foreign dignitaries, Chávez's family and Venezuelan officials gathered around Chávez's casket.

Argentinian president Cristina Kirchner was amongst the first heads of state to arrive in Venezuela on Tuesday 5 March. She visited the chapel at the military hospital to pay her final respects on Thursday before returning home,[102] citing health reasons.[103] Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff attended a wake on Thursday at the military academy before returning to Brazil on Friday morning.[103] Former President Lula da Silva accompanied President Rousseff and departed before the funeral service.

Former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien and his wife Aline attended the funeral,[104] along with former Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba, former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, and former Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo.

Other attendees included Former US congressman William Delahunt, President of Russian Rosneft oil company Igor Sechin and CEO of Rostec Sergei Chemezov;[97] Nikolay Lukashenko, son of the Belarus president; Alexis Tsipras, the leader of SYRIZA in Greece (later Prime Minister of Greece); from Spain were Cayo Lara and Willy Meyer Pleite (MEP).[105] American civil rights activist Jesse Jackson and actor Sean Penn also attended.[106][107]

Honour guards were provided by the cadets of the component service academies of the Venezuelan Bolivarian Military University and by personnel of the Presidential Honor Guard Brigade, among others.[citation needed] The Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra provided musical accompaniment during the state funeral services.


Mausoleum of Hugo Chávez.

Echoing strong national sentiment the Government elevated a proposal to the National Assembly (Parliament) for a statute amendment that would allow placing the late president's body near that of Simón Bolívar (the Liberator and father of the country) in the National Pantheon of Venezuela, a secular building housing the remains and/or cenotaphs to independence war heroes and former presidents. The statute (still unamended) requires that a number of years pass before any such moves. Chávez's remains were placed instead at a mausoleum (built in 99 days) at the now Revolution Museum (formerly Army Museum) at the Mountain Barracks (former site of the Military Academy in La Planicie Barracks). The mausoleum to Hugo Chávez consists of a granite sarcophagus atop a flat architectural composition of four leaves entitled Flower of the Four Elements by modernist architect 'Fruto' (Jose Fructoso) Vivas (1928–) (national Architecture Price and designer of the Venezuelan Pavilion at Hanover in 2000) and has a permanent ceremonial 4-man honour guard provided by the Presidential Honor Guard Brigade, which is changed every hour. A 19th century cannon is fired every afternoon from the Fort marking the time of his death by a National Militia gun crew. Both ceremonies are open to the public.

Foreign media commentary[edit]

The BBC quoted analysts as saying Chávez' death could alter the balance against the so-called "pink tide" in favour of centrist governments. It also suggested a possible economic impact to Venezuelan oil sales due to them being below market prices relative to some neighbouring countries, especially in the Caribbean.[2] Americas Quarterly editor Christopher Sabatini suggested that the "Chávez myth" would outlive his achievements.[108] Prior to his death, Venezuela's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were also highlighted as dependent on Chávez.[109]


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