After Chávez’s Death, Venezuelans Mourn and Look to an Uncertain Future

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Ariana Cubillos / AP

A supporter of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez cries as she holds a picture of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez, as Chavistas gather in Bolívar Square to mourn Chavez's death in Caracas, March 5, 2013.

The mood outside the Dr. Carlos Arvelo military hospital was somber. Women crowded the entrance, sobbing. Grim-faced men looked on. Many stood in stunned silence while motorbikes streamed by, their horns honking. When approached, some of Hugo Chávez’s supporters burst into tears. Normally boisterous and impassioned, they were now at a loss. “Our president is dead,” cried Sirleny Sosa, 50, a housewife. “He’s done so much for this country.”

(MORE: Death comes for El Comandante—TIME’s Chávez obituary.)

Just hours earlier, Vice President Nicolás Maduro, clad in white, had revealed the inevitable. “We have just received the most tragic and awful information,” he said. “At 4.25 PM today March the fifth, President Hugo Chávez Frías died.” He continued, visibly distraught: “Comandante, thank you so much on behalf of these people whom you protected.”

What awaits Chávez supporters? At a recent government rally, Maduro’s attempts to emulate his boss’s charisma panned. Supporters milled around at the back of the small crowd, wearing their Chávez memorabilia and buying a range of new merchandise produced since the socialist leader’s cancer came to light nearly two years ago. With Venezuela’s constitution calling for elections within 30 days, Maduro likely will stand against Henrique Capriles, the opposition leader who lost to Chávez in October’s presidential vote.

(MORE: Nicolás Maduro—Chávez’s loyal lieutenant.)

Despite tough crowds at recent rallies, though, there is little doubt that Maduro will win, according to polls. Maduro can, for now, count on the legions of crimson-clad Chávez supporters in mourning as el Comandante’s body lies in state this week. “The order from Chávez was to rally behind Maduro,” said Sosa. “That’s what we’ll do.”

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That adulation for Chávez was echoed by certain world leaders. Bolivia’s President Evo Morales said tearfully that Chávez now was “more alive than ever,” referring to the leftist ideals that Morales and other Latin American presidents share. Brazil’s government called for a minute of silence. An economic giant in the region, Brazil under former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva became one the world’s economic heavyweights while continuing social programs for the poor. It’s Lula da Silva’s policies—populist but less divisive and dogmatic—that the more moderate Capriles has tried to champion.

(PHOTOS: Venezuelans mourn the death of their President.)

Politicians in the West, on the other hand, were not so forthcoming with their praise. “[Chávez’s] death dents the alliance of anti-U.S. leftist leaders in South America,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. “Good riddance to this dictator.” Official British and U.S. government statements were more circumspect in their criticism.

(MORE: Chávez’s oratory—a career in quotes.)

The polarization that Chávez wrought was visible in Caracas streets last night, too. While supporters wept for el Comandante at revolutionary landmarks, in the city’s wealthier neighborhoods some admitted to toasting to the death of the president, hoping for the country’s return to what they called normalcy — the boom years of the 1970s and 1980s. It was the vast disparity in wealth then, coupled with the overt corruption of political elites, that spurred Hugo Chávez’s populist takeover. This legacy still haunts the opposition, in part because many fail to accept it. “I’m not part of the old establishment,” Capriles told TIME last year. But others he is compelled to ally with are. In contrast, former bus driver Maduro plays with much more ease to Chávez’s working-class base support.

“Until now, he’s lived in the shadow of Chávez in silence, with a low profile,” said Alberto Barrera Tyszka, a Caracas political columnist who co-wrote the 2004 biography Chávez Sin Uniforme (Chávez Out of Uniform). In recent weeks, Maduro has come out of that shell, though without the success of his leader.

The question now is whether he will be able to run government with the political and personal skill that Chavez displayed, despite soaring inflation, one of the world’s highest murder rates and frequent power outages. “A very, very popular leader has died,” said Caracas-based engineer Carlos Rivero, 42. “Whether we liked him or not is not the point. He was revered by more than half the country.”

PHOTOS: Chávez’s rise to power—a history in pictures.

106 comments
Jeroen Hardeman
Jeroen Hardeman

new hope for venezuelans to get back independent private media , opinion without fear , and private property rights for all people !

Billy Fuston
Billy Fuston

All men and women are great in their own right and to those who Loves them. Not our place to judge others We don't really know.

chelasycambur
chelasycambur

@TIME Uncertainty will face if the same peolpe keep running the goverment

Vijay Divecha
Vijay Divecha

Lets hope for the best out-come for the country VENEZUELA..........Amen.

EmilioBerrios
EmilioBerrios

@TIME as long gvmnt doesnt follow the Constitution,as long as they dont play by the rules in order to hold power,we are facing uncertainess

marymiracle12
marymiracle12

Now, this is a well-informed article. We are mourning his death but the path is clear for me... freedom and socialism

Antonio T. Bernal
Antonio T. Bernal

two democratic infiltrators was sent the time hugo chavez died.... expelled!

Ricardo Olivo Poletti
Ricardo Olivo Poletti

good soul? do you know who you are talking about? the irony is funny though, thanks

Niban Rai
Niban Rai

May his good soul Rest In Eternal Peace, for this world let little.

Ponce Uy
Ponce Uy

May his soul be rest in peace. Murir es descansar.

Monica Rodriguez
Monica Rodriguez

As a 20 year old venezuelan I have experienced living in the command of Chavez since I was 6 years old. I have not known what is to live in freedom this whole time. Chavez was a man that lead the venezuelan country to its worst possible state, he created corruption, insecurity, fear, death and anger between people, he took our constitution and created it his own for his benefit and for the worst for venezuelan society. Venezuela is my favorite place in the world and I cannot wait to see the better path that is going to take. Venezuela is not going to change from one day to another. We are still in a hope for freedom and that will not happen until we see the results from the future presidential elections. Venezuela is united and filled with hope to see that freedom that we have been waiting for the past 14 years. We will stand tall and fight for our beautiful Venezuela. Please pray for our country and hope that this year will be the year of change. God has given us more hope for the best for out country. There will be no celebration until democracy will be what it is again. PLEASE LIKE this comment to reach out to people to pray for our beautiful country and for its freedom.

Dietrich Lanz
Dietrich Lanz

Petrodollars The devils money to buy countries goverments,politicians and news mag covers.Pays Castro the new ruler of Venezuela.

Nemohoes2013
Nemohoes2013

Uncertain future? The future looks brighter than ever. The seed was planted, the tree is blooming and will keep blooming forever. You can't stop a revolution of this kind. Our eyes have been opened, and open they will remain. No VOLVERAN, never again never never never never again. RIP Comandante Chavez mi heroe, te queremos mucho, gracias por todo. que diosito te tenga en su gloria

Dale Klčo
Dale Klčo

So, now...is it still politically incorrect to buy gas at Citgo? (Like I really care)

Mousa Shehadeh
Mousa Shehadeh

Yes there is end to all of us ,doth never forget any one old,Yang,rich,poor,sick,heather,"he was good. With his peoples

Dietrich Lanz
Dietrich Lanz

Next Kick Cubans invaders out.Castro go Home.PARASITES.BLOOD SUCKERS

Noah's Ark
Noah's Ark

Can you make the picture anymore creepy?

Anthony Falcon
Anthony Falcon

people may dislike him, but in time of my people needs he stud up and answer ower call y my leaders just sat by n watched.... fuel, foof, water, aid.... i hated what he stud for but then i opened my eyes.. n we are moving to his country to rebluid what he wanted for his people.. my people will morn his death... n will replay his country back for the help... he turned to a friend in his last says.. r.i.p.

Dietrich Lanz
Dietrich Lanz

Time Mag Next time choose the Devil in your front page. Keep the truth away is war crime.

Dietrich Lanz
Dietrich Lanz

Chavez,Kaddafi and Saddam Hussein playing angry birds.

Cristian Grattone
Cristian Grattone

@Mezbah Says USA dont know Democracy. They only Know corporatocracy.

Mezbah Says
Mezbah Says

USA will send democracy out there soon

Tim Mandese
Tim Mandese

Had this on the shelf for a while now huh? TIME is an opportunist magazine and not a news reporting magazine.

Mariel Pereyra Inostroza
Mariel Pereyra Inostroza

Do you really need to have his face as the cover? Wouldn't it be better to have pictures of the people of Venezuela ???? It is like seeing the devil !!!!

Vanessa Occhipinti Rosales
Vanessa Occhipinti Rosales

El que no viva en Venezuela no puede opinar. Si, él tenía ideas maravillosas pero nunca pudo concretarlas de la manera correcta porque su arrogancia, su exclusion a los que no pensaban como el y la corrupcion que él mismo permitio pudieron más que las ganas que tenía de sacar éste pais hacia adelante.