Chavez lies in state for farewell
CARACAS (AFP) – Venezuelans filed past the open casket of late President Hugo Chavez as he lay in state Thursday after throngs of weeping loyalists gave the firebrand leftist a rousing farewell on the streets.
As Venezuelans began three days of goodbyes, an election to succeed Chavez loomed, after the curtain came down on a 14-year socialist presidency that heightened class tensions in the oil-rich South American nation.
Hundreds of thousands waved flags and chanted “Chavez lives” as his hearse crawled across the capital Wednesday in a seven-hour trip from the hospital where he died to the academy he once called his second home.
The former paratrooper’s hand-picked successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, led the procession, wearing a sombre expression and the colours of the national flag, in what was in effect his debut in an election campaign.
The coffin was then placed half-opened in the hall, surrounded by Chavez’s grieving mother Elena, who covered her face with a white handkerchief, three of his daughters, son Huguito and a granddaughter, some choking back tears.
The presidents of Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia, close Chavez allies, and a crowd of officials applauded to chants of “Chavez lives, the struggle goes on!”
The doors were then opened for ordinary Venezuelans, who stood in a huge line to pay their respects, some making the sign of the cross, others in uniform giving the military salute, as a four-man honour guard stood by stiffly.
“His face was beautiful. We will remember him the way he was, the way he lived,” Yelitze Santaella, governor of Monagas state, told AFP after seeing the body, which was not shown directly in state-run television coverage.
Chavez’s death after a nearly two-year struggle with cancer was a blow to his supporters and to the alliance of left-wing Latin American powers, and it has plunged his OPEC member nation into uncertainty.