Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (C) gestures while speaking to supporters after receiving news of his reelection in Caracas on October 7, 2012. ((Getty Images))

Analysis: Chavistas begin search for Latin America’s next ‘Comandante’

Love him or hate him — and plenty of people in Venezuela and around the world felt one of the two emotions — firebrand President Hugo Chavez’s brand of leadership will be hard to replace.

Chavez died Tuesday at age 58, after a long battle with cancer that was shrouded in mystery and prevented him from being inaugurated for a fourth term.

Beyond the country’s borders, question marks loom as to whether any regional leader will step into Chavez’s shoes and become the region’s voice of socialism and anti-Americanism.Chavez, a self-declared socialist, often criticized the United States on its history of intervention in the Americas and Washington‘s stance on countries such as Iran.

In a 2006 address at the U.N. General Assembly, Chavez called President George W. Bush “the devil.”

“The hegemonistic pretensions of the American empire are placing at risk the very existence of the human species,” he said during the speech.

Such declarations gave voice to many wishing to shake-off perceived American dominance of Latin America.  His habit of using Venezuela’s vast oil wealth to help prop-up governments in the name of the “Bolivarian Revolution” — named after Simon Bolivar who led 19th-century movements to end Spain’s colonial rule throughout Latin America — won him many friends.

He also supported cooperation among Latin American nations, and helped establish the Union of South American Nations, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas and the Bank of the South.

Hugo Chavez, seen here in 2011 standing next to his daughter Rosa Virginia, right, Minister of Penitentiary Services Maria Iris Varela, left, and Venezuelan Minister of Health Eugenia Sader.

Nobody in power in the Americas has Chavez’s charisma or power to galvanize millions. More importantly, no other leader — even the ones that share his ideas like Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Bolivia’s Evo Morales or Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner — has the resources and influence of a country such as Venezuela, which has the largest proven oil reserves in the world.

So while many Chavistas are saying “Long live to the King,” it is not clear how long the king’s project will survive internationally. The same is the case within Venezuela, but more so.

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