AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Published — Saturday 9 March 2013
Last update 9 March 2013 3:53 am
CARACAS: Latin American leaders and US foes gathered in Caracas to join throngs of mourners at a state funeral for Venezuela's Hugo Chavez yesterday, as the nation eyes life without him with the formal swearing-in of his political heir.
Venezuela has given a lavish farewell to the leftist firebrand, with hundreds of thousands of people filing past his open casket nonstop since Wednesday to say goodbye to the man who was revered by the oil-rich nation's poor.
The state funeral started yesterday at a military academy. In the evening Nicolas Maduro, who was Chavez's vice president, was named acting president and elections are expected to be called within 30 days.
Most Latin American leaders are attending the funeral, as well as bugbears of the West long courted by the anti-US Chavez, including Cuba's Raul Castro, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko.
The former paratrooper, who died Tuesday at age 58 after a long battle with cancer, will lie in state an extra seven days to allow everybody to see him.
He will then be embalmed "like Ho Chi Minh, Lenin and Mao" and kept in a glass casket "for eternity," Maduro said Thursday.
Maduro said the body will be taken to the "Mountain Barracks" in the Jan. 23 slum that was a bastion of Chavez support, a facility that is now being converted into a Museum of the Revolution.
It was there that Chavez had spearheaded what proved to be a failed coup against President Carlos Andres Perez on Feb. 4, 1992. His arrest turned him into a hero, leading to his first of many election victories in 1998.
But Maduro suggested that Chavez may one day be moved elsewhere, a nod to popular pressure for him to be taken to the national pantheon to lie alongside Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar.
The government said more than two million people had come since Wednesday to get a glimpse of their hero, whose petrodollar-fueled socialism earned him friends and foes at home and abroad. Many stood in line through the night.
Chavez lay in a half-open, glass-covered casket in the academy's hall, wearing olive green military fatigues, a black tie and the iconic red beret that became a symbol of his 14-year socialist rule.
People blew him kisses, made the sign of the cross or gave military salutes as they walked by, with just seconds to see him. A four-man honor guard and four tall candelabras flanked the coffin, with a golden sword at the foot of it.
"It doesn't matter how many hours we wait. We will be here until we see him," said Luis Herrera, 49, a driver wearing a red beret who was in line with countless others in the middle of the night. A Philippine mortician famous for installing deceased dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a glass display case offered his services early yesterday, stressing that authorities must act quickly if they want to preserve the body properly.