May 20, 2013
Venezuelans flood streets for Chávez coffin parade
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans were on the streets again today at a funeral parade for Hugo Chávez amid opposition protests that the government was exploiting his death to win the election.
Chávez's remains were transported for about 12 miles (20 km) through Caracas from an army academy to a military museum on a hillside where the former soldier launched his political career with a failed coup in 1992.
The events were the culmination of 10 days of official mourning in the South American OPEC nation led by the flamboyant socialist president for 14 years until his death from cancer.
A state funeral was held a week ago.
"You are a giant," his daughter Maria Gabriela said in an emotional religious service before the procession began.
"Fly freely and breathe deep with the winds of the hurricane. We will care for your fatherland and defend your legacy. You will never leave, your flame is in our hands."
Though his remains will for now be placed in the museum on the edge of the populous January 23 neighborhood - arguably the most militantly pro-Chávez zone in the country - there was still doubt over his final resting place.
The government wanted to embalm Chávez "for eternity" in the style of Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin and China's Mao Zedong. But embarrassingly, officials said the process should have started earlier and confirmed on Friday that it had been ruled out.
A Russian medical team told the government the body would have to be taken to Russia for seven to eight months to carry out the procedure, Venezuela's information minister said.
Parliament had been due to debate a motion this week to amend the constitution so that Chávez's body could be buried in the National Pantheon, close to the remains of his idol and South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.
The constitution states that honour can only be accorded to leaders 25 years after their death.
But the debate was delayed amid talk Chávez's corpse might instead be taken to his hometown Sabaneta, in the Venezuelan "llanos," or plains, to fulfill his oft-stated wish to lie alongside the grandmother who raised him in a mud-floor home.
Crowds of red-shirted "Chavistas" lined the streets for Friday's parade. Some wore headbands with the name of acting President Nicolas Maduro, who was picked by Chávez as his preferred successor. He is running in an April 14 vote.
"Chávez, I promise you, my vote is for Maduro," read the headbands, repeating a slogan at pro-government rallies.
"I've got 500 and I'm going to sell them all easily. Chávez left Maduro in charge and he will be president," said Miguel Angel, 43, selling the headbands.