The death of Hugo Chávez, a polarizing figure in world politics, brought a storm of reaction from Latino politicians in the U.S.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said it turns a dark chapter in Venezuelan history.
“The Venezuelan people now have an opportunity to … embark on a new, albeit difficult, path to restore the rule of law, democratic principles, security and free enterprise system in a nation that deserves so much better than the socialist disaster of the past 14 years,” Rubio said. “It is my sincere hope that Venezuela’s leaders will seek to rebuild our once strong friendship based on shared democratic and free enterprise principles.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, blamed the socialist leader, who died Tuesday at the age of 58, for Venezuela’s high murder rate and sky-high inflation rate.
“His record is a prime example of how socialist policies degrade freedom, stifle innovation and hurt those least off in society,” Cruz said. “Regimes like those under Chávez are a stark reminder of how much we have to be thankful for here in America…”
Critics often attacked Chávez for his disregard for democracy, the country's violent crime rate, government corruption, his friendship with controversial leaders such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Cuba's Fidel Castro.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla) said while Chávez used “manipulation” and “brutal tactics” to rule Venezuela, it’s unclear what the country’s future holds .
“His death marks the end of this tyrannical rule but the road to democracy for the Venezuelan people is still very much uncertain,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Not all politicians were rejoicing in Chávez’s death. New York Congressman José Serrano, a Democrat, eulogized the Venezuelan leader on Twitter.
He was among the more left-leaning politicians who praised him because of his visits to impoverished neighborhoods like New York’s South Bronx, his heating-oil program in the U.S. and his offer to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
“Hugo Chávez was a leader that understood the needs of the poor," tweeted Serrano, whose district includes South Bronx. "He was committed to empowering the powerless. R.I.P. Mr. President.”
Serrano, in a statement released after the tweet, acknowledged Chávez was controversial – but said his unique gifts help lift the country’s poor.
“His focus on the issues faced by the poor and disenfranchised in his country made him a truly revolutionary leader in the history of Latin America,” said Serrano. “He understood that after 400 years on the outside of the established power structure looking in, it was time that the poor had a chance at seeing their problems and issues addressed. His core belief was in the dignity and common humanity of all people in Venezuela and in the world.”