Such rhetoric has upset religious leaders and drawn the reproach of Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, Venezuela’s top Catholic official, on the eve of the Easter holidays.
“One can’t equate any hero or human leader or authority with Jesus Christ,” Urosa said. “We can’t equate the supernatural and religious sphere with the natural, earthly and sociopolitical.”
While in power, Chavez crossed paths frequently with Venezuela’s church, which sometimes accused him of becoming increasingly authoritarian. Chavez described Christ as a socialist and he strongly criticized Urosa, saying he misled the Vatican with warnings that Venezuela was drifting toward dictatorship.
Emerging last week from a church on the outskirts of Caracas, Lizbeth Colmenares slammed politicians from both sides for using derogatory language in the campaign, particularly during Holy Week.
“They are not following the words of Christ,” said Colmenares, a 67-year old retiree. “They should be more humble and they shouldn’t be attacking each other that way.”
Politics and religion have long mixed in Latin America, starting with the Spanish conquest of the New World, which Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes said was carried out “between sword and cross.”
Chavez tied his own legacy to Bolivar, incessantly invoking his name and delivering hundreds of speeches with Bolivar’s portrait over his shoulder. He renamed the country “The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” and built a giant mausoleum built to house Bolivar’s bones.
An animated short shown repeatedly on state TV makes clear that Chavez is already a political saint for millions. It shows him, after death, walking the Venezuelan plains of his childhood before coming across former Argentine first lady Eva Peron, Bolivar, former Chilean president Salvador Allende and Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, among others.
Several Chavistas waiting to visit his tomb said their comandante is with them in spirit and that is why they planned to vote for Maduro, confident that Chavez was guiding his hand.