Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died of a massive heart attack after great suffering and inaudibly mouthed his desire to live, the head of Venezuela’s presidential guard said late on Wednesday.
“He couldn’t speak, but he said it with his lips ... ‘I don’t want to die. Please don’t let me die,’ because he loved his country, he sacrificed himself for his country,” General Jose Ornella said.
The general said he spent the last two years with Chavez, including his final moments, as Venezuela’s president of 14 years battled an unspecified cancer in the pelvic region.
The government announced on the eve of Chavez’s death that he had suffered a severe new respiratory infection.
The general said he did not know precisely what kind of cancer afflicted Chavez, but added: “He suffered a lot.”
Ornella echoed the concern of Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro that some sort of foul play was involved in Chavez’s cancer.
“I think it will be 50 years before they declassify a document [that] I think [will show] the hand of the enemy is involved,” he said.
The general did not identify who he was talking about, but Maduro suggested possible US involvement on Tuesday.
The US Department of State called the allegation absurd.
On Wednesday, sobbing and shouting, Chavez’s supporters paraded his coffin through the streets of Caracas in an emotional outpouring that could help his deputy win an election to keep his socialist revolution alive.
His body was taken to a military academy to lie in state at the tip of a grand esplanade until his state funeral today.
The future of Chavez’s socialist policies now rest on the shoulders of Maduro, the man he tapped to succeed him.
The stakes are also huge for leftist Latin American allies such as Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia that for years have relied on Chavez for economic aid, but leaders of other countries in the region — mainly free-traders such as Peru, Chile, Colombia, Panama and Mexico — periodically rejected his overtures, criticized his policies and, for Washington, served as a buffer against him.
A stony-faced Bolivian President Evo Morales joined Maduro at the front of the procession.
The presidents of Argentina and Uruguay joined them for a vigil by the coffin. Other regional leaders are expected to attend his funeral.
Condolences flooded in from around the world — ranging from the Vatican and the UN to allies such as Iran and Cuba.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad mourned Chavez’s death as a great loss, extolling his opposition to the “war on Syria.”
US President Barack Obama was less effusive about a man who put his country at loggerheads with Washington, saying his administration was interested in “developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government.”
In a potentially conciliatory gesture, the US, a major oil client of Venezuela, is expected to send a delegation to the funeral.
Chavez’s folksy charisma, anti-US diatribes and oil-financed projects to improve life for residents of long-neglected slums created an unusually powerful bond with many poor Venezuelans.
However, critics saw his autocratic style, gleeful nationalizations and often harsh treatment of rivals as hallmarks of a dictator, whose policies squandered a historic bonanza of oil revenues.
Even some of his followers complained that he focused too much on ideological issues at the expense of day-to-day problems, such as power cuts, high inflation, food shortages and violent crime.