'We are all Hugo Chavez': supporters gather to pay tribute to Venezuela's dead President

Emotional crowds lined the streets of Caracas to watch el Comandante's coffin pass


Hundreds of thousands of red-shirted Chavistas filled the streets of Caracas today to honour Venezuela’s dead President, Hugo Chavez.

They came on the highways, two to a motorcycle, or on the back of brimming trucks to see the coffin of “el Comandante” borne across the capital from the military hospital where he finally succumbed to cancer on Tuesday to the military academy where he will lie in state today.

Against a backdrop of billboards and graffiti honouring Mr Chavez, people massed on roofs, while the crowds below them roared: “Chavez vive! La lucha sigue!” (“Chavez lives, the struggle continues”). Others wept or prayed for the man known as Corazon del Pueblo, “the heart of the people”.

Jasmin Camero, a 38-year-old schoolteacher from Cua, in Miranda state, said between sobs, “Chavez is dead, the great hero of South America! He gave the country to the poor, he made them visible, he dignified us. Tell the world: we are all Chavez.”

The hearse, laden with flowers, was almost lost in the sea of red as it was taken to the military school, where Chavez’s body will remain until his burial tomorrow. His supporters hope he will be laid to rest at Venezuela’s National Pantheon of military heroes, alongside the 19th-century revolutionary Simon Bolívar.

Yanky Rodriguez, 35, a mechanic, watched the procession from the sidelines. “I am here to support the revolution, to show my love for the President,” Mr Rodriguez said. Under Mr Chavez’s rule, he said, his son had been given a computer, his daughter’s school had been rebuilt, and the family had been moved to better housing.

Mr Rodriguez said he supported Vice President Nicolas Maduro as the country’s next leader.

However, despite her deep affection for Mr Chavez, another mourner, 54-year-old Niriam Perez said she would not support Mr Maduro, the late President’s chosen successor. “He lied too much to the people,” she explained, saying Mr Maduro could not expect Venezuelans to vote for him after he kept them in the dark about Mr Chavez’s condition. The late leader had not been seen in public since December last year. “It’s not fair that he was hidden from the people.” she said.

Among world leaders already in the capital were Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Uruguay’s Jose Mujica, and the Bolivian President Evo Morales.

It was unclear if there would be any public viewing of Mr Chavez’s body at the academy. What is certain, however, is that tomorrow’s funeral will be an extravagant display of national grief – with supporters bussed in from around the nation to cram the streets – in keeping with the larger-than-life personality of Mr Chavez himself.

A Colombian reporter was reportedly assaulted outside the military hospital on Tuesday, and a few student protesters’ tents were set alight by Chavez loyalists, but otherwise this riot of grief has been a peaceful one.

The bigger challenges will come, however, when the funeral rituals are over. The stakes are high not only for Venezuela, where political divisions are fierce, but for the wider region and especially for the allies Mr Chavez cultivated. Cuba, which receives billions of dollars in subsidies from Caracas, has particular reason to be nervous about what turn the country takes.

Today, Vice President Nicolas Maduro appeared to be the de facto leader, pending a snap election that, according to the Constitution, must be held within 30 days. No date is yet set. 

In a potentially ominous sign it appeared a Constitution provision designating Diosdado Cabello as interim president was being ignored. Some wondered meanwhile whether children of Mr Chavez might try to insert themselves into the transition process.

Meanwhile the Defence Minister, Admiral Diego Molero, said he would pledge military support to Mr Maduro against Mr Capriles – a vow that violates a constitutional ban on the involvement of the military in politics.

Critics of the former President were also already making themselves heard, meanwhile. “Hugo Chavez will be remembered as an extraordinary politician and as a failed leader,” the nation’s former Trade Minister, Moises Naim, told The Miami Herald. “The Venezuela he leaves behind is politically polarised, economically weak, and terrifyingly murderous. But mostly it is poorer, more unjust and vastly more corrupt than what it was before Hugo Chavez ruled it.”

Arguably of greatest concern to Venezuelans has been the failure of the government to contain rising violence. The country is second only to Honduras in Latin America for murder rates. 

There was every sign that Mr Maduro would honour Mr Chavez’s legacy of using anti-American rhetoric to stir his supporters. Even before the President’s death was announced, Venezuela ejected two American diplomats charging they had been conspiring to destabilise the state.

“This is a government that is beginning to blame the United States for all its troubles,” Javier Corrales, a political scientist at Amherst College in Massachusetts said.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Auditor

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: IT Auditor , Information Governance, NHS...

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

WPF .NET Developer

£300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform