BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A top Fatah leader expressed Palestine's condolences early Wednesday after learning of the death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
“Palestine says good bye to a loyal friend who passionately defended our right to freedom and self determination. His contribution to the cause of dignity had no borders and reached the hearts and minds of the Arab World,” Nabil Shaath said in an emailed statement.
“President Chavez expressed his solidarity with tangible political steps in order to advance Palestine’s rights. Particularly, his determination to take a strong position during the 2008/09 aggression against Gaza as well as during 2011 as well as strongly supporting Palestine’s UN recognition.”
He added: “Today we remember the words of Simon Bolivar ‘I desire to see (Latin) America fashioned into the greatest nation in the world, greatest not so much by virtue of her area and wealth as by her freedom and glory.’ President Chavez endlessly worked not only for freedom and glory for his beloved Latin America, but for all oppressed peoples, including Palestine, a country he kept in his heart.”
Chavez died on Tuesday after a two-year battle with cancer, ending 14 years of tumultuous rule that made the socialist leader a hero for the poor but a hate figure to his opponents.
The flamboyant 58-year-old 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.
"We have just received the most tragic and awful information. At 4.25 p.m. today March the 5th, President Hugo Chavez Frias died," Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced in a televised address, his voice choking.
"It's a moment of deep pain," he said in the address, in which he appeared with senior ministers.
Chavez easily won a new six-year term at an election in October and his death will devastate millions of supporters who adored his charismatic style, anti-US 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 traits of an egotistical dictator whose misplaced statist economics wasted a historic bonanza of oil revenues.
Chavez's death opens the way for a new election that will test whether his socialist "revolution" can live on without his dominant personality at the helm.Reuters contributed to this report.