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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On Social Networks, Mourning and Division After Chávez’s Death

With expressions of mourning and calls for peace and stability, Venezuelans took to the streets and social networks on Tuesday after the announcement of the death of President Hugo Chávez. Messages came from all over the country and around the world, as supporters and critics of Mr. Chávez grappled with the news and tried to figure out what was next for the deeply divided country.

Many tried to strike a conciliatory tone. One message on Twitter, posted below, read, “Political ideology is not important, he’s a person and deserves respect, RIP Chávez.”

But Mr. Chávez’s death quickly highlighted the wide gulf in society after his 14 years in power. Another post on Twitter alluded to the country’s high crime and homicide rates: “RIP Chavez Hypocrites, Why not ‘RIP the thousands of Venezuelans murdered in 14 years’”

As my colleague William Neuman reports, Venezuela’s Constitution says that the! country should “proceed to a new election” within 30 days when a president dies in the first four years of his term, and Foreign Minister Elías Jaua said in an interview on Tuesday night that Vice President Nicolás Maduro would take the helm in the meantime.

Foreign Minister Elías Jaua announcing that Vice President Nicolás Maduro would assume power in the meantime.

The election is likely to pit Mr. Maduro, whom Mr. Chávez picked as his successor before having his final surgery in December, against Henrique Capriles Radonski, a young state governor who lost to Mr. Chávez in a presidential election in October.

Vice President Niolás Maduro, his voice cracking and close to tears, announced the death on Tuesday.

The past few weeks have been marked by a swirl of rumors around the health of Mr. Chávez, so the announcement on Tuesday came as little surprise. Mr. Capriles, the leader of the opposition, sent a message of solidarity to Chavistas and called for unity in a Twitter post.

Reaction came from all over the world, including from President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, two of the many leaders in the region who expressed their condolences.

Lamento el fallecimiento del Presidente Hugo Chávez. Mis más sentidas condolencias a su familia y al pueblo venezolano.

â€" Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN) 5 Mar 13

President Dilma Rousseff on the death of Mr. Chávez.

Messages also came from the United States, including a brief statement from the White House that read: “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.”

blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-hide-thread">

The region will be less colorful without @chavezcandanga, but #Venezuela now has a chance to reemerge as a constructive hemispheric actor.

â€" Philip J. Crowley (@PJCrowley) 5 Mar 13

But the uncertainty was visible on the streets of Caracas. Shortly after the announcement of Mr. Chávez’s death, police officers and soldiers were highly visible. Stores and shopping malls closed as people rushed home.

A video posted on YouTube appeared to show Carmen Rengifo, a correspondent from the Colombian RCN Channel, being attacked by a group outside the Military Hospital in Caracas where Mr. Chávez was being treated. The content of the video has not been independently verified.

A video appears to show a reporter being attacked outside the Military Hospital in Caracas.