Serrano's praise for Chavez drew immediate fire from Republicans, who called the message of condolences insensitive to those who suffered under the Chavez regime.

“It’s simply insulting that a Democrat Congressman would praise the authoritarian ruler Hugo Chavez. Chavez systematically cracked down on the basic freedom and liberties of Venezuelans, nationalized private industries, and befriended anti-American dictators like Castro, Ahmadinejad, and Assad," said RNC spokesperson Alexandra Franceschi in a statement. "Americans should stand together with the freedom loving people of Venezuela as they hope for a peaceful transition to a democracy, instead of praising the former dictator.”

Serrano later expanded upon his tweet in a statement posted to his House website, in which he acknowledged that Chavez was "a controversial leader" but said his "core belief was in the dignity and common humanity of all people in Venezuela and in the world."

"Though President Chavez was accused of many things, it is important to remember that he was democratically-elected many times in elections that were declared free and fair by international monitors. Even today, people in North America seem unable to accept that Venezuelans had taken our admonitions to have democracy to heart and elected the leader of their choice," Serrano said.