Thousands wait in line to see the body of the late Venezuelan President Hugo… (Mauricio Duenas / European…)
CARACAS, Venezuela -- After funeral services Friday with at least 33 heads of state expected to be in attendance, the body of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will be specially embalmed and ultimately placed on permanent public display in a glass case, similar to the tombs of Lenin and Ho Chi Minh, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced Thursday.
Thousands of citizens waited for hours in a mile-long line Thursday at the Venezuelan Military Academy to view Chavez’s body in an open casket, donning green army fatigues and a red beret. His coffin was placed there Wednesday after a five-mile procession through Caracas, the capital, before hundreds of thousands of red-shirted supporters.
“The display of love for the president has been unbelievable,” Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said in a TV interview Thursday. Referring to the outpouring of public grief during Wednesday’s procession and the long lines at the lying-in-state, Jaua said, “Never were we prepared for something like this.”
Chavez’s final resting place remains a mystery, although Maduro said that, after the funeral, public viewing of Chavez’s coffin in the short term will continue for seven more days at the Museum of the Revolution, the former Defense Ministry headquarters where Chavez directed an unsuccessful military coup in February 1992.
The Caracas museum will be Chavez’s “first place of rest,” Maduro said. Speculation is that the permanent glass tomb may ultimately be located at the museum, at a special mausoleum Chavez had built in Caracas for Venezuela’s 19th century “liberator” Simon Bolivar, or in Chavez’s native Barinas state in western Venezuela.
Speaking on national television, Maduro said the plan to place Chavez’s body on permanent view was the decision of the late president’s family and government officials. Chavez, 58, died Tuesday at a Caracas military hospital after a 21-month battle with cancer.
Heads of state and other officials expected to attend Friday's funeral service at the Ft. Tiuna military base in Caracas include Cuban President Raul Castro, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and the heir to the Spanish throne, Prince Felipe.
The delegation that the United States is sending to the services notably lacks high officials. It is to include the U.S. Embassy’s charges d’affaires, James Derham, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks and former congressman William Delahunt. The U.S. and Venezuela expelled each other’s ambassadors in 2010.
There was no word Thursday on when an election will be held to determine Chavez’s successor. The constitution says such an election should be convened within 30 days of the resignation or death of the incumbent. Maduro is expected to be the Chavista candidate, and opponents may include Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in a presidential election in October.
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