Chavez Entombed as Venezuela Focus Turns to Elections

Hugo Chavez’s remains were laid to rest in a marble tomb in Caracas today in the last of a series of remembrance events before a snap election triggered by his death on March 5.

Chavez’s coffin was transported in a hearse through the streets lined with throngs of supporters and followed by a motorcade of motorcyclists clad in red, the color of his “21st century revolution.” The body was moved from a chapel in the military academy where it lay in state for nine days as millions of Venezuelans filed to bid farewell.

“Today we begin the march without your presence but with you at the forefront,” acting President Nicolas Maduro said before his coffin in a speech broadcast on state television. “If there’s someone who has earned his place in heaven to be alongside Jesus Christ then that person without a doubt is Hugo Chavez Frias. Mission accomplished, Comandante.”

Maduro, handpicked as his successor by Chavez three months before his death from cancer, visited his mentor’s coffin more than 10 times while it lay in state as he used the national sense of grief to win support ahead of the April 14 election, said Luis Vicente Leon, president of Caracas-based polling firm Datanalisis. Maduro, Chavez’s longtime foreign minister and a former bus driver and union leader, is pitted against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski in the election.

“It’s obvious that they’re highlighting the emotion to aid the campaign,” Leon said in a phone interview.

Mountain Barracks

Following a service at the military academy attended by Bolivian President Evo Morales, family members carried his coffin to a hearse as more than 2,000 cadets bade him farewell. The 18.4 kilometer (11.4 mile) motorcade through the streets lined with supporters ended at the “Barracks in the Mountain,” where Chavez organized a failed 1992 coup against the government of former President Carlos Andres Perez. The barracks, that look over the presidential palace, have since been converted into a museum celebrating Chavez’s “21st century revolution.”

“Thank you, comandante, for giving us back the fatherland,” Chavez’s daughter, Maria Gabriela, said in a eulogy at the service. “We will look after your fatherland and we will defend your legacy as you taught us to do. You will never be gone because we have your flame in our hands, Hugo Chavez.”

Emotional Appeal

In a Datanalisis poll taken from Jan. 31 to Feb. 20, Maduro is backed by 46 percent of voters compared with 34 percent for Capriles, who lost by 11 percentage points to Chavez in a vote last October. The poll’s margin of error was 2.4 percentage points.

Maduro retracted an original plan to have Chavez’s body embalmed and placed on permanent display at the museum. The National Assembly also postponed voting on whether to call a referendum to adjust the constitution so that Chavez could be buried alongside his hero, South American liberator Simon Bolivar, in the National Pantheon.

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