Sun, Mar 17, 2013 - Page 1 News List

Hugo Chavez laid to rest after final farewell in Caracas

AFP, CARACAS

Pallbearers carry the coffin of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to a hearse prior to a funeral parade in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday.

Photo: Reuters

Late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was laid to rest at a military museum on Friday after an emotional final journey through the streets of Caracas watched by hundreds of thousands of people.

After more than a week lying in state, Chavez’s body was driven through the Venezuelan capital in a hearse, allowing his compatriots to bid a final farewell to the man who ruled the South American country for 14 years.

Friends and family joined government and army officials in surrounding the coffin as it arrived at Chavez’s final resting place — the hilltop former army barracks-turned-museum where he plotted his failed 1992 coup.

Official television coverage, streaming the procession throughout the day, cut the footage just as Chavez’s coffin, bedecked in a Venezuelan flag, was set to be interred.

Late on Friday, Venezuelan officials ruled out embalming Chavez and leaving his body on permanent public display in a similar fashion as Lenin.

The museum housing Chavez’s body was to open to the public from yesterday and the government said it expected the mausoleum to become a “place of pilgrimage for the world’s revolutionaries.”

Earlier, a black hearse loaded with the casket made its entrance through the gates of the barracks and several senior military commanders carried the coffin down a red carpet.

“Our people can be absolutely sure that we won’t fail them, we will build Bolivarian socialism ... following the comandante’s instructions,” the late president’s older brother, Adan Chavez, spoke just before the coffin closed, as he choked up and could not finish his speech.

Hugo Chavez succumbed to cancer on March 5 at age 58, plunging a deeply polarized Venezuela into mourning amid growing uncertainty over its future.

“We came for the love and loyalty. Life will continue to remind us of Hugo Chavez, the man who opened our eyes and roads,” said Maria Ruiz, a local official of the ruling PSUV party who traveled from Carabobo State.

The funeral procession had started after a mass and a solemn ceremony in the courtyard of the military academy, which for nine days and nights saw throngs of Venezuelans come pay their last respects.

The “comandante” was laid out in an olive green uniform and wore his trademark red beret.

His daughter, Maria Gabriela, donning dark glasses, broke through the applause to thank her father for “giving us the homeland back” and promised to defend his legacy, as Hugo Chavez’s mother wept incessantly.

After a mass, the casket was loaded into a black hearse for the 12km procession by foot, motorcycle, car, jeep and on horseback to the barracks.

Huge crowds of hundreds of thousands of supporters — many sporting red shirts bearing Hugo Chavez’s likeness — watched as the hearse, flanked by riders in ceremonial red military uniforms on horseback, made its way slowly down the Paseo de los Proceres, a boulevard honoring the country’s founders.

“I came because he is our president,” 51-year-old Judith Santana said. “The best way we can pay tribute is to keep fighting for our revolution and to be happy, not sad.”

The march resembled last week’s seven-hour procession during which Hugo Chavez’s coffin was transferred to the academy from the military hospital where he died.

Venezuelan Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas said the government had scrapped plans to embalm Hugo Chavez “like Lenin” and put him on permanent public view.

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