Regional leaders react to death of Hugo Chavez

Caracas, Mar 5 (EFE).- Regional and international leaders began reacting late Tuesday afternoon to the news that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had died in this capital after battling cancer for nearly two years.

"At 4:25 p.m. local time today, March 5, comandante President Hugo Chavez Frias died," a visibly upset Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on national television from Caracas late in the afternoon.

Also in Caracas, Venezuelan opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles expressed via Twitter his "solidarity" with Chavez's relatives and followers.

"My solidarity with the entire family and followers of President Hugo Chavez, we advocate the unity of Venezuelans at this time," said Capriles - who lost the national election last Oct. 7 to Chavez - on the social network.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said that Chavez's death "saddens all Latin Americans (and) ... will leave an empty space in the heart, in the history and in the struggles" of the region.

She went on to call Chavez "a great Latin American," adding that his death was an "irreparable loss" and saying that "as president and as a person ... I had great affection for him."

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto also used Twitter to express his "heartfelt condolences" to the Chavez's family and the Venezuelan people, as did Finance Secretary Luis Videgaray and Foreign Secretary Jose Antonio Meade, along with former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who said "Rest in peace."

Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza also sent his condolences to the Venezuelan government and people over the "sad" death of Chavez, saying in a communique that "It is a time of great pain for Venezuelans and we are with them, along with all the peoples of the region."

The communique also said that the flags of the OAS would fly at half staff and that an extraordinary session of the body's Permanent Council would be convened in Chavez's memory.

Meanwhile Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos attributed the advances obtained in the peace process between his government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebels to his Venezuelan counterpart.

"Thanks to his dedication and limitless commitment" the Colombian government and the FARC had been able to move forward "in a solid peace process," said Santos in a televised statement.

He also noted, however, that his relations with Chavez had not always been cordial and that they had had "many differences" on economic matters and governance but they had decided to put them "to the side to seek the best for Venezuela and Colombia."

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement released Tuesday evening by the White House, "At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez's passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government."

"As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights," Obama said.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, a friend and ally of Chavez, said "The best tribute to brother and comrade Chavez is unity ... to struggle for dignity, unity to struggle for our freedom, unity to work for the peoples of the world."

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez decreed three days of national mourning in her country.

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica called Chavez "a great builder" and confirmed that he will travel to Caracas.

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala also expressed his desire for unity among Venezuelans at this time, calling in addition for "reflection."

The Ecuadorian government of Rafael Correa, also a supporter and ally of Chavez, expressed its "deep sorrow" and called the Venezuelan the "leader of an historic process in the Americas."

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent his condolences to Chavez's family and to the people and government of Venezuela and said he would be making a formal statement later.