Chávez’s death, announced by Nicolás Maduro, the vice-president, came almost two years after he was diagnosed with cancer in June 2011. He then declared himself cured twice, was operated on four times and also underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Mr Maduro said the 58-year-old leader died at 4.25pm on Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by his closest aides at the Caracas military hospital where he was being treated.
Chávez, who railed frequently against the American “empire” and nationalised large swaths of the economy, won a landslide re-election victory only last October. Venezuela’s constitution requires that fresh elections now be held within 30 days.
He has not been seen in public since then, despite returning to Caracas on February 18.
Mr Maduro had been running the country since Chávez left for his cancer operation in Cuba and many believe that he has in effect already begun his presidential campaign with greatly increased media exposure and frequent attacks against the opposition.