Switzerland has joined other countries to offer condolences to Venezuela following the death of President Hugo Chávez on Tuesday.
The charismatic but controversial self-proclaimed revolutionary had been in power since 1999. Last October he won re-election for another six-year term.
The 58-year old Socialist leader had undergone several operations in Cuba after being diagnosed with cancer in 2011.
The Swiss presidency is sending official condolences in a letter to the Venezuelan authorities and population. As a formal diplomatic gesture, Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter will pay Switzerland’s respects at Venezuela’s embassy to Bern on Friday, officials said.
The Swiss flag flown above the foreign ministry offices next to parliament was also flown on Wednesday at half mast as per protocol following the death of a head of state.
In a brief statement to journalists Burkhalter described Chávez as a leading political figure.
“He marked not only the course of his country but the whole of Latin America,” he said.
Burkhalter added that Venezuela’s future depended on the way the transition of power is organised in the South American country over the coming weeks. Elections are scheduled next month.
“We hope for increased legal security in Venezuela, paving the way for more Swiss investments in the long term,” Burkhalter said.
Relations between Switzerland and oil-rich Venezuela were strained following the nationalisation of the leading Swiss-based cement company, Holcim, in 2008.
The foreign ministry describes ties as ”good, but not particularly well-developed”.
In 2011 Switzerland imported goods, mainly agricultural products and metals, worth CHF6.3 million ($6.7 million). Exports to Venezuela totalled CHF374 million. Direct investments stood at CHF2.1 billion in 2010.
Switzerland opened an embassy in the capital, Caracas, in 1961. At the end of last year some 1,800 Swiss citizens lived in the South American country.
By Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch