CARACAS, Venezuela – A human tide accompanied the funeral procession on Wednesday of President Hugo Chávez on his journey from the military hospital where he died to the chapel at the Military Academy, the cradle of the political project that brought him to power.
The coffin with Chávez’s remains, covered with the Venezuelan flag, was carried in a hearse decorated with bouquets of white and yellow flowers that made its way slowly through the crowd.
“To victory, commander, we’ll always love you!” thousands of followers shouted tearfully and asked for the president to be buried in the National Cemetery, next to Simón Bolívar, one of the most influential politicians in the history of the Americas.
As the coffin left the military hospital, where Chávez died Tuesday at age 58, his mother, Elena Frías, leaned on it, grieving, crying and covering her face with a handkerchief.
Dressed in a sport jacket with the Venezuelan colors Vice President Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s designated political heir, advanced in front of the car, next to Bolivian President Evo Morales, the President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello and government ministers.
Venezuela’s national anthem with the recorded voice of Chávez was sung by the crowd.
Thousands of fans, wearing red shirts, the color of Chávez’s party, approached the car, blowing kisses, praying, cheering and appearing still stunned by the dramatic departure of the president.
Others, however, highlighted how the president contributed to a divided Venezuelan society with his polarizing speech. “Hatred and division was all he sowed,” said José Mendoza, a computer programmer. “What Chávez did to Venezuela has no name. He ruined this country,” said Giuseppe Leone, a 78-year-old Venezuelan man.
Chávez, once a ubiquitous president, died without being able to say goodbye to Venezuelans, after fighting cancer that was diagnosed in June 2011 and for which he was operated on four times in Havana.
On early Wednesday regional leaders who will attend the official state funeral scheduled for Friday began arriving. Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner and Uruguay’s José Mujica were the first to arrive, followed by Morales.
Nicolás Maduro, 50, will be the official candidate for the presidential elections to be held within 30 days, as the Constitution states, likely against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, 40.
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