Breaking: Hugo Chavez is dead; Update: Democratic rep mourns; Update: So does Jimmy Carter

Well, that’s that: Chavez’s lieutenants have been insisting for months that the Venezuelan president would be making a full recovery from his cancer-related operations and that Venezuelans had no cause for alarm — but they’ve been getting notably less vociferous about the whole thing recently, and that charade is officially over. The Associated Press is reporting that the longtime socialist-Marxist leader died on Tuesday afternoon:

Vice President Nicolas Maduro, surrounded by other government officials, announced the death in a national television broadcast. He said Chavez died at 4:25 p.m. local time. …

Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba in June 2011 to remove what he said was a baseball-size tumor from his pelvic region, and the cancer returned repeatedly over the next 18 months despite more surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He kept secret key details of his illness, including the type of cancer and the precise location of the tumors. …

Two months after his last re-election in October, Chavez returned to Cuba again for cancer surgery, blowing a kiss to his country as he boarded the plane. He was never seen again in public. …

After a 10-week absence marked by opposition protests over the lack of information about the president’s health and growing unease among the president’s “Chavista” supporters, the government released photographs of Chavez on Feb. 15 and three days later announced that the president had returned to Venezuela to be treated at a military hospital in Caracas.

Update: So, what’s next for Venezuela now that their corrupt, destructive, America-hating, socialist leader is no more? Either Vice President Nicolas Maduro or National Assembly leader Diosdado Cabello will become interim president for thirty days while the country engineers a special election — and without Chavez to figurehead his “Chavismo” movement, the outcome isn’t necessarily a sure thing.

[A]lthough his cronies and their Cuban handlers are maneuvering to hold on to power, a Chavista succession is neither stable nor sustainable. With more audacious leadership among Venezuela’s democrats and intelligent solidarity from abroad, Chávez’s legacy might be buried with him.

The foundations of Chavismo are being shaken by an impending socioeconomic meltdown, a faltering oil sector, bitter in-fighting in his own movement, complicity with drug-trafficking and terrorism, rampant street crime, the inept performance by Chávez’s anointed successor, and growing popular rejection of Cuban interference, corrupt institutions, and rigged elections. Beset by these challenges and with Chávez no longer at the top of the ballot, the regime will use every advantage to engineer a victory in a special election to choose a new president.

Update (AP): Speaking of Maduro, he’s a low-rent anti-American populist crank from the same mold as his former boss. If you thought that Chavez shoving off might make way for detente between the U.S. and Venezuela, think again:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was infected with cancer by “imperialist” enemies, his No. 2 alleged on Tuesday, adding that the socialist leader was suffering his hardest moments since an operation three months ago…

“We have no doubt that commander Chavez was attacked with this illness,” Maduro said, repeating a charge first made by Chavez himself that the cancer was an attack by “imperialist” foes in the United States in league with domestic enemies.

“The old enemies of our fatherland looked for a way to harm his health,” Maduro said, comparing it with allegations that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004, may have been poisoned by Israeli agents.

Read this old Hitchens piece from 2010 about seeing Chavez’s crankery up close. Even his lackey Sean Penn couldn’t break through the wall of paranoia, which included skepticism about the moon landing.

Update (AP): The main plot right now is Chavez’s death and the subplot is creepily affectionate reminiscences from some of his fellow travelers on the left. (John Sexton notes on Twitter that Chavez ultimately proved too tyrannical even for Noam Chomsky.) Soon, though, as the shock of the news about his demise recedes, those two will reverse positions. Here’s your early leader for useful idiot of the day. He’s a congressman, of course:

Update (AP): No surprise here:

Update (AP): David Frum points to this piece from a few years ago estimating that the Man of the People had amassed a private fortune of $2 billion.

Update (AP): Michael Moynihan’s acidic obit at Newsweek is the one you’ll want to read. As he reminds us, there was no monster Chavez wasn’t willing to hug in the name of anti-American camaraderie. He was a proud supporter of Saddam, Mugabe, Qaddafi, and of course Bashar Assad, not because they overlapped much philosophically beyond authoritarianism but because they were all antagonists of the United States. That was Chavez’s core shtick — anti-colonialist vaudeville at the expense of the west’s superpower.

Update (AP): You outdid yourself on this one, Jimbo. I want to say “unbelievable,” but no, it’s quite believable.

Statement From Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on the Death of Hugo Chavez

Rosalynn and I extend our condolences to the family of Hugo Chávez Frías. We met Hugo Chávez when he was campaigning for president in 1998 and The Carter Center was invited to observe elections for the first time in Venezuela. We returned often, for the 2000 elections, and then to facilitate dialogue during the political conflict of 2002-2004. We came to know a man who expressed a vision to bring profound changes to his country to benefit especially those people who had felt neglected and marginalized. Although we have not agreed with all of the methods followed by his government, we have never doubted Hugo Chávez’s commitment to improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen.

President Chávez will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments and for his formidable communication skills and personal connection with supporters in his country and abroad to whom he gave hope and empowerment. During his 14-year tenure, Chávez joined other leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean to create new forms of integration. Venezuelan poverty rates were cut in half, and millions received identification documents for the first time allowing them to participate more effectively in their country’s economic and political life.

At the same time, we recognize the divisions created in the drive towards change in Venezuela and the need for national healing. We hope that as Venezuelans mourn the passing of President Chávez and recall his positive legacies — especially the gains made for the poor and vulnerable — the political leaders will move the country forward by building a new consensus that ensures equal opportunities for all Venezuelans to participate in every aspect of national life.