CARACAS: With leaders from five continents on hand, Venezuela prepared for a day of distinctly different ceremonies — first the formal state funeral of Hugo Chavez, then the controversial swearing in of his anointed interim successor, who the opposition charges has no constitutional right to the job.
Today’s funeral at the military academy where Chavez has been lying in state promises to be a final turn on the world stage for the former paratrooper after 14 tumultuous years at Venezuela’s helm, though in some ways he is not going anywhere: Venezuela announced Thursday that it would embalm Chavez’s body and put it on permanent display.
Hours before the visiting dignitaries arrived, Venezuelans in their hundreds of thousands were still filing past Chavez’s glass-covered casket in a round-the-clock marathon of tears, prayers and military salutes. The last of what the Venezuelan government says are more than 30 heads of state arrived for the funeral early Friday. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad touched down after 1:00am and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera landed around dawn. “It is a great pain for us because we have lost a friend,” Ahmadinejad said upon his arrival. “I feel like I have lost myself, but I am sure that he still lives. Chavez will never die. His spirit and soul live on in each of our hearts.”
US Rep Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, and former Rep William Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts, represented the United States, which Chavez often portrayed as a great global evil even as he sent the country billions of dollars in oil each year.
The normally traffic-choked streets of Caracas were empty, with schools and many businesses shuttered.
The government also prohibited alcohol sales. Many Venezuelans, particularly Chavez supporters, said they were caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the past few days, and flattered to be in the world’s attention. “This is historic ...I have never seen anything like it,” said Edila Ojeda, a 57-year-old janitor. “He was a world leader recognized internationally. I am speechless. It is impressive.”
Others said they were put off by what they saw as excess, particularly the plan to put Chavez’s body on permanent display. “He was a president, and I would say not a good one. Not a hero,” said Gloria Ocampos, a retired office manager.
“He should be buried, just like any other president. They are treating him like he was the father of the country ... It’s crazy.” The government has given almost no details about the funeral, and has told the national and international media there will be no access, a measure of the strict control with which Chavez and his top lieutenants have controlled the country for years. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua appealed to local media not to publish critical political analyses “which could be a provocation for a pained people.”
Following the funeral, National Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello was to swear in Vice President Nicolas Maduro as interim president, as Chavez desired.
Late prez to be embalmed ‘like Lenin’
CARACAS: Hugo Chavez’s political heir said on Thursday that the late Venezuelan president and leftist leader would be embalmed ‘like Lenin’ and displayed in the barracks where he plotted a failed coup. As hundreds of thousands of mourners streamed through the military academy where Chavez’s body lies in state, officials said vice president Nicolas Maduro would be sworn-in as acting president late Friday and ‘call for elections’. But as the tense political transition got under way, the farewell to Chavez was also extended, with Maduro saying the public viewing period would last at least seven more days after a state funeral with world leaders on Friday. — AFP
Leaders whose bodies have been preserved
• Vladimir Lenin (Russia)
• Josef Stalin (Russia)
• Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam)
• Mao Zedong (China)
• Kim Il-sung (North Korea)
• Kim Jong-il (North Korea)