From Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Cuba’s Raul Castro, about 30 heads of state joined Friday’s funeral of Hugo Chavez in a last goodbye to the charismatic but divisive Venezuelan leader who changed the face of politics in South America.
Chavez died on Tuesday aged 58 after a two-year battle with cancer, devastating millions of mostly poor supporters who loved him for putting the country’s vast oil wealth at their service, but giving hope to foes who saw him as a dictator.
Huge crowds of “Chavistas” gathered for the ceremony at a military academy where his body was lying in state. Many were dressed in the red of the ruling Socialist Party, carrying his picture and waving Venezuelan flags.
“Chavez did not die, he multiplied!” they chanted. “Chavez lives! The revolution goes on!”
The late president’s body is to be embalmed and shown “for eternity” at a military museum – similar to how communist leaders Lenin, Stalin and Mao were treated after their deaths.
His remains will lie in state for an extra seven days to accommodate the millions of Venezuelans who still want to pay their last respects to a man who will be remembered as one of the world’s most colorful and controversial populist leaders.
“All these measures are being taken so that the people can be with their leader forever,” said Chavez’s preferred successor and acting president, Nicolas Maduro. He will be sworn in as caretaker leader after the funeral on Friday.
More than 2 million people have so far filed past Chavez’s coffin behind a red rope at the grandiose military academy, many sobbing, some saluting or crossing themselves.
Among the leaders in Caracas were close allies such as Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, Brazil’s current and former leaders, Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
“Most importantly, he left undefeated,” Cuba’s Castro said, referring to Chavez’s four presidential election wins, among a string of other ballot victories in his 14-year rule.
“He was invincible. He left victorious and no one can take that away. It is fixed in history.”
Celebrity mourners included Oscar-winning U.S. actor and director Sean Penn and Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who arrived together wearing dark suits and sunglasses.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Ahmadinejad were among the more controversial figures. Ahmadinejad has caused a storm back home for saying Chavez would be resurrected alongside Jesus Christ and a “hidden” imam who Shi’ite Muslims believe will rise up to bring world peace.
The United States was not sending senior officials.
Former U.S. Representative William Delahunt and U.S. Representative Gregory Meeks were attending, amid speculation of a possible post-Chavez rapprochement between the two ideologically opposed governments.
“The show of love for the president has been incredible,” said Foreign Minister Elias Jaua.
“It’s as if the world has come together around Hugo Chavez.”
A government source said Chavez slipped into a coma on Monday before dying the following day of respiratory failure. The cancer had spread to his lungs, the source added.
Source: Chicago Tribune