World News – 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 at age 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” arrived early for the ceremony at a military academy where his body has been 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 gathering 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,
and Cuban President Raul Castro.
“Most importantly, he left undefeated,” 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.” Reuters