CARACAS, Venezuela — Hugo Chávez’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 like Lenin, Mao and Ho Chi Minh.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s acting head of state, said Chávez would first lie in state for “at least” seven more days at the museum, which will eventually become his permanent home.
It was not clear when exactly he would be moved from the military academy where his body has been since Wednesday.
A state funeral will be held Friday attended by 33 heads of government, including Cuban President Raul Castro and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, and former Rep. William Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts, will represent the United States, which Chávez often portrayed as a great global evil even as he sent the country billions of dollars in oil each year.
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Maduro said the body would be held in a “crystal urn” at the Museum of the Revolution, a stone’s throw from Miraflores presidential palace.
The announcement followed two emotional days in which Chávez’s supporters compared him to Jesus Christ, and accused his national and international critics of subversion.
A sea of sobbing, heartbroken humanity jammed Venezuela’s main military academy Thursday to see Chávez’s body, some waiting 10 hours under the twinkling stars and the searing Caribbean sun to file past his coffin.
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 the task of 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.
At the military academy, Chávez 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.
Asked when an election would be held, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said only that the constitution would be followed. He continued to refer to Maduro as “vice president,” though he also said the rest of the government was united in helping him lead the country.
The foreign minister also struck the defiant, us-against-the-world tone the government has projected, which some critics fear could incite passions in a country that remains on edge.
While Maduro is the clear favorite over likely opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, the nation is polarized between Chávez supporters and critics who hold him responsible for soaring inflation, a growing national debt and a jump in violent crime.
Opponents have also questioned the government’s allegiance to the rule of law, arguing that Maduro is not entitled to become interim president under the 1999 constitution. They have also criticized the defense minister, Adm. Diego Molero, for pledging support for Maduro’s candidacy despite a ban on the military taking sides politically.