Chavez body to be put on permanent display

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 7, 2013 at 9:20 pm •  Published: March 7, 2013
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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Hugo Chavez's body will be preserved and forever displayed inside a glass tomb at a military museum not far from the presidential palace from which he ruled for 14 years, his successor announced Thursday in a Caribbean version of the treatment given Communist revolutionary leaders such as Lenin, Mao and Ho Chi Minh.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's acting head of state, said Chavez would first lie in state for "at least" seven more days before the museum becomes his permanent home. It was not clear when exactly he would be moved from the military academy where his body has been since Wednesday.

Later Thursday, the National Assembly speaker announced that Maduro would be sworn in Friday night as acting president following a state funeral and would call elections within 30 days. That enables him, as the designated governing party candidate, to run for president as Chavez desired. Legal scholars say that under the constitution, the legislature's speaker should instead be sworn in and organize the vote.

More than 30 heads of government, including Cuban President Raul Castro and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are to attend the funeral. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, and former Rep. William Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts, will represent 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.

Maduro said the ceremony would begin at 11 a.m., but did not say where.

"We have decided to prepare the body of our 'Comandante President,' to embalm it so that it remains open for all time for the people. Just like Ho Chi Minh. Just like Lenin. Just like Mao Zedong," Maduro said.

He said the body would be held in a "crystal urn" at the Museum of the Revolution, a mile from Miraflores presidential palace.

The announcement followed two emotional days in which Chavez's supporters compared him to Jesus Christ, and accused his national and international critics of seeking to undermine his "revolution."

A sea of sobbing, heartbroken humanity jammed Venezuela's main military academy Thursday to see Chavez's body, some waiting 10 hours under the twinkling stars and the searing Caribbean sun to file past his coffin.

On Thursday night, Castro, Presidents Jose Mujica of Uruguay and and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil viewed the open casket along with former Brazilian president Inacio Lula da Silva.

But even as his supporters attempted to immortalize the dead president, a country exhausted from round-the-clock mourning began to look toward the future. Some worried openly whether the nation's anointed leaders are up to filling his shoes, and others said they were anxious for news on when elections will be held. The constitution mandates they be called within 30 days, but the government has yet to address the matter.

"People are beginning to get back to their lives. One must keep working," said 40-year-old Caracas resident Laura Guerra, a Chavez supporter who said she was not yet sold on Maduro. "I don't think he will be the same. I don't think he has the same strength that the 'comandante' had."

At the military academy, Chavez lay in a glass-covered coffin wearing the olive-green military uniform and red beret of his paratrooper days and looking gaunt and pale, his lips pressed together. In a nod to the insecurity that plagues this country, mourners had to submit to a pat down, pass through a metal detector and remove the batteries from their mobile phones before they entered.

As they reached the coffin, many placed a hand on their heart or stiffly saluted. Some held up children so they could see Chavez's face.



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