When the news arrived at 4.25pm local time yesterday it was greeted with mixed emotions in Caracas. His supporters grieved, his opponents celebrated. But few were shocked. Hugo Chavez had not been seen in public since he flew to Havana on 11 December for surgery on a recurrence of his pelvic tumour. There were the pictures of him smiling with his daughters when he returned home from Cuba last month, but only his inner circle would ever see him in the flesh again. Last night in Caracas, gunshots rang out in the pro-Chavez parts of town. “My mother told me not to come home tonight, to stay in the east, where people are with the opposition,” said Oriana Gonzalez, who lives in western Caracas but travels to work across town.
Shortly after the announcement, various military generals appeared on television to announce they would guarantee the “peace and security of the country”.
But many feared the violence that has characterised Venezuela in recent years would now spiral out of control.
Raul Villegas, a Chavez supporter from western Caracas, said: “I will not be leaving my house for some time – I expect riots to be happening throughout the city. Caracas isn’t safe tonight.”
“Everyone expected this sooner or later,” said Bruno Cruicchi, a businessman in the Candelaria district. “Our emotions here are varying between sadness and acceptance. We have had a long time to consider this. People around me are shutting up their shops and leaving early because they fear there are going to be riots tonight. What needs to happen now is that the government needs to taker a strong grip, otherwise we’re going to have a very difficult situation on our hands,” he added.