Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, has died, Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced in a televised statement.
Chávez was 58.
In power since 1999, Chávez had become an icon of socialist policies in Latin America. With his country's oil wealth as backup, he launched fierce and unyielding criticism of the United States.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2006.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The AP reports:
"During more than 14 years in office, Chavez routinely challenged the status quo at home and internationally. He polarized Venezuelans with his confrontational and domineering style, yet was also a masterful communicator and strategist who tapped into Venezuelan nationalism to win broad support, particularly among the poor."
Chávez was battling cancer when he won a tough reelection campaign last year.
As we reported earlier, Maduro called a meeting of top Venezuelan politicians today and he asked the country to keep working, despite Chavez's ailment.
Maduro said history would judge Chávez as a "new liberator."
"That's what Chávez means to us and to our history; our Chávez is the 21st Century liberator," Maduro said during a press briefing.
During the press conference, where Maduro announced his death, the vice president's voice cracked.
"It's a moment of deep pain," he said. He asked the country for "peace and tranquility" and asked Chávez's foes, who had questioned whether he should be considered president because he was never formally inaugurated, to show "respect."
"We are heirs and sons of a giant," Maduro said.
The press conference ended with Maduro lifting his fist and saying, "Honor and glory to our commander Hugo Chávez."
TeleSur is broadcasting live from Venezuela.
This is a breaking news story, we'll have more as it develops.
Update at 5:34 p.m. ET. Chávez's Legacy:
We've now posted a full obituary for Chávez. NPR's Juan Forero writes that Chávez was certainly a leader with an "outsized personality."
But what did his transition of Venezuela into socialism really accomplish for the country? Forero writes:
"Chavez, who ruled Venezuela from 1999 until his death Tuesday, was not able to turn the country's oil wealth into broad-based prosperity. At various times, the country experienced high inflation, food shortages and many other economic problems.
"On the international stage, the countries that followed Venezuela's lead were some of Latin America's poorest and least influential. Chavez maintained fervent supporters throughout his rule. But in the end Venezuela was, in some ways, worse off than when Chavez began."