Venezuela's Hugo Chavez Leaves Mixed Legacy

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The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has pundits debating his legacy. The controversial 58-year-old leader died Tuesday following a two-year battle with cancer.

While some Venezuelans are mourning, others are celebrating.

Chavez saw himself as an anti-capitalist revolutionary and champion of Venezuela's poor. He imagined that the United States, and especially former President George W. Bush, was the epitome of evil.

"You are a donkey, Mr. Bush," Chavez told the U.N. General Assembly in September 2006. "The devil came here yesterday and it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of."

Chavez said capitalism may have ended life on Mars, that the United States had a secret earthquake weapon, and that Twitter was a "tool of terrorism."

But beyond the bizarre stunts and showmanship, Chavez's legacy is viewed by some as a wasted opportunity in a nation that desperately needed more from its leader.

Although Venezuela is one of the most oil rich nations in the world, you'd hardly know it by visiting parts of country. The economy has remained in a permanent shambles, with 22 percent inflation.

Crime has skyrocketed. The homicide rate tripled under Chavez and the country's capital Caracas is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

While some of Venezuela's oil money was used to alleviate poverty, a lot of it was used to further Chavez's anti-American revolution.

The state-owned oil company, PDVSA, was used as a piggy bank. Billions were given to Cuba and Chavez himself died a billionaire.

But Venezuela's poor believed that Chavez truly cared about them.

"He's a man that cared about us," Caracas resident Rosalinda Vielma said. "He did not give anything to me, but he gave it to my people," she said with tears.

But in South Florida, Venezuelans were cheering and hopeful that Chavez's death could mean the return of full democracy to Venezuela.

"We are not celebrating death," Ana San Jorge, 37, said amid a jubilant crowd in the Miami suburb of Doral. "We are celebrating the opening of a new door, of hope and change."

Chavez also made the hemisphere much more dangerous by making Iran an ally and allowing Hezbollah to operate inside Venezuela.

Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who assumed temporary control of the presidency, told the nation on state television that the United States had a hand in Chavez death. Two U.S. diplomats were expelled.

The constitution says new elections must be held in 30 days.

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Dale Hurd

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A CBN News veteran, Dale Hurd has reported extensively from Western Europe, as well as China, Russia, and Central and South America.  Since 9/11, Dale has reported in depth on various aspects of the global war on terror in the United States and Europe.  Follow Dale on Twitter @HurdontheWeb and "like" him at Facebook.com/DaleHurdNews.