Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has died after a two-year battle with cancer, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said in a televised speech. He was 58.
The fiercely anti-American leader ran Venezuela for 14 years, consistently beating back both domestic opposition and international pressure. After winning re-election in October 2012, Chavez' debilitated state forced him to drop out of sight, causing him to miss his own inauguration as he underwent chemotherapy in Cuba.
As his health reportedly worsened, speculation swirled about who was running the country — and who could take Chavez's place in the event of his likely demise.
Chavez's death opens the way for a new election within 30 days. Appearing on state TV, Venezuela's military chiefs pledged their loyalty to Maduro, who Chavez had named as his preferred successor.
"At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez's passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government," the White House said in a statement. "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."
Chavez disclosed in 2011 that he had cancer yet never publicly disclosed which form of cancer. He had undergone multiple surgeries for tumors in the stomach and reports from Venezuela suggested it may have been sarcoma, a form of soft-tissue cancer.