Hugo Chavez Mourned by Sea of Venezuelans Dressed in Red

For the first time in 14 years, Venezuelans are without Hugo Chavez.

March 6, 2013, 3:55 AM

March 6, 2013— -- The streets of Caracas were a sea of red today as Venezuelans wearing the colors of Hugo Chavez 's political party flooded the capital as Chavez's coffin was carried through the streets.

Chavez, who was 58, died Tuesday after ruling the oil rich country for 14 years and becoming one of the U.S.'s most vocal critics.

Today's display of grief, with some people crying and many holding "Viva Chavez" banners, marks the beginning of seven days of mourning as well as an uncertain future for the country.

FULL COVERAGE: Hugo Chavez Dead at 58

The first order of business will be to fill the shoes of Chavez, although even in death the country's longtime leader's orders are being followed. The man he anointed to succeed him, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, will continue to run Venezuela as interim president and be the governing socialists' candidate in an election to be called within a month.

"The constitution says [an election] must take place within 30 days. Any sooner would make it harder for the opposition," Diana Villiers Negroponte, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, told "Maduro can draw on the emotions of the Venezuelan people, who believe they have lost a saint. Quick elections are difficult for the opposition to win. It is not an even playing field."

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in the October presidential election and is widely expected to be the opposition's candidate to oppose Maduro, has been bitterly feuding with Maduro and other Chavez loyalists who accused him of conspiring with far-right U.S. forces to undermine the regime.

Mark Jones, Political Science Chair at Rice University, believes the South American leader left behind a polarizing legacy.

"Everybody is seen as an enemy or a friend, and that level of polarization combined with intense feeling of Chavez's death, will lead to a very delicate situation over the next few weeks," he said.

Late Tuesday, Maduro expelled two American military attaches from the country, accusing them of trying to "destabilize" the army. Ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) says he's not happy the Venezuelan government expelled the two attaches before announcing Chavez's death.

"Obviously it's not a hopeful sign if we are looking to improve relations. I think some of the old guard will probably want to continue the policies of Chavez," Engel said.

Before tearfully announcing the death of the socialist leader on state television Tuesday, Maduro hinted Chavez -- who had suffered from an undisclosed type of cancer -- had been previously poisoned by foreign elements, including the U.S., but provided no evidence.

"He feels weak and needs to unite his base," Francisco J. Monaldi, a visiting professor Harvard University, told "The strategy is to look for an external threat, or an enemy. This is what (Syria's president Bashar) al-Assad and (Libya's Moammar) Gaddafi did when they face a difficult time. He's not a natural strong leader."

It was declining oil prices in the late 1990s that helped Chavez get elected. During his second presidential term Venezuela saw a massive oil windfall.

Chavez Mourners Turn Caracas Into Sea of Red

For the rest of his presidency Chavez relied heavily on the country's oil income to fund social programs. Over time exports fell from 3 million barrels per day in 2000 to 1.7 million barrels per day in 2011, according to The Associated Press.

Chavez reinvested relatively little of the country's oil income to locate new oil fields and replace depleted ones. Critics of Chavez accuse him of ruining the economy after he nationalized Venezuela's oil industry.

But Monaldi says that Chavez will always be connected with this bonanza.

"People did not like (all of Chavez') positions, but liked the money in their pocket," he said. "They supported Chavez because of that.

"For the future of Venezuela, it will be very hard for the population to understand that this was unsustainable. It had to do with this windfall, not the generosity of this charismatic guy," Monaldi said.

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The country's next president will have to decide how to continue with the system Chavez put in place and rode for 14 years.

"[Maduro] will continue to deplete the oil resource during the election campaign, because although the oil continues to flow, it is committed to paying creditors -- namely the China National Petroleum Corporation," Negroponte told "The oil resource is taken. He can use it to pay his followers, but he will quickly have to introduce austerity."

Monaldi pointed to Maduro's foreign policy stances, particularly his brokering of a turnaround in Venezuelan-Colombian relations as a hopeful light that the relationship between the U.S. and Venezuela could improve.

"He is surrounded by very radical people with ideas about how U.S.-Venezuelan relations should be," Monaldi said. "Maduro was able to forge a relationship with Colombia. Maduro was the guy leading the charge on the Venezuelan side. He was very open and easy to negotiate with. He might be pragmatic in the end."

In the U.S. there are many Venezuelans who hold out hope that Chavez's death can bring sweeping changes -- particularly in its relationship with the U.S.

Doral, Fla., has the largest number of Venezuelan immigrants in the U.S. Many of those immigrants celebrated the news of Chavez's passing. They chanted "he's gone, he's gone and soon Fidel [Castro] will be too."

Daniel Naim hopes for a better future for his homeland.

"I'm happy because this is a window of opportunity. Venezuela can change," Naim said.

Arleny Dimond, President of the Venezuelan Association of Utah, told ABC News that many were saddened by the news, but she says that emotion was forced by years of lies and deception.

"We had a presidential election and a lot of people in Venezuela voted for Chavez. A lot of people still support Chavez," she said. "I didn't want him to die, but unfortunately I knew that was the only way he would get out of there. But ... I want a change. I wanted a change for the country."

ABC News' Matt Gutman, ABC News Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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