Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died on Tuesday after a lengthy battle with cancer, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said in a televised speech.
The socialist leader's 14-year rule of the South American country set off a revolution that included nationalizing numerous industries including oil and gold production. Chavez's most recent election was marked by voting irregularities.
Chavez was diagnosed with cancer in June 2011, but the details of his illness weren't made public by the Venezuelan government. His death was widely expected after he no longer made public appearances and reportedly had a severe lung infection.
Chavez's revolution more than a decade ago empowered millions of poor voters in the South American country. But Venezuela also had significant economic problems with shortages of basic goods and significant inflation, which had created political unrest.
Maduro will take over pending a new election in approximately 30 days. Maduro is likely to face Henrique Capriles Radonski, who lost to Chavez in the October 2012 presidential election.
Chavez often chastised the U.S. and led the effort to reduce America's influence in South American.
Critics of Chavez hope the country will move in a new direction with the socialist leader's passing.
"For more than a decade, the Venezuelan people have suffered under the authoritarian rule of Hugo Chavez," U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said in a statement. "He cracked down on freedom of the press and arrested judges and opposition leaders who didn't agree with him. Additionally, he used petro dollars stolen from the Venezuelan people to extend his influence and fund the sinister agendas of cruel dictators like Castro, Ahmadinejad and Assad.
"Now, there is hope for the restoration of freedom in Venezuela with truly free and fair elections, renewal of a civil society, and the protection of an independent press. I share the hopes of South Florida's patriotic Venezuelan community that today will mark a new era and the start of a brighter future for their beloved country."
Added U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement on Chavez:
"For over a decade Chavez had used corruption, intimidation, manipulation and brutal tactics to rule over the Venezuelan people. Chavez misruled Venezuela with an iron grip on the government, economy and the courts as he routinely bullied the media and the opposition to deny the people of Venezuela their basic freedoms. Today, his death marks the end of this tyrannical rule, but the road to democracy for the Venezuelan people is still very much uncertain.
"Chavez not only led Venezuela into a spiraling economic downturn, but also deepened ties with fellow despots throughout the world that led to fear and instability in the Western Hemisphere. His ever growing cooperation with fellow state sponsors of terrorism, Iran, Syria, and Cuba, threatened U.S. interests in the region and around the globe. By providing aid and financial assistance to these rogue regimes, Chavez gave many human rights violators an economic lifeline in the form of oil subsidies to continue their tyrannical rule over their people. "
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