Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is to be permanently embalmed and put on display in a glass casket in the style of Lenin and Chairman Mao.
Nicolas Maduro, the interim president and Chavez’s designated successor, said the late president’s body will be displayed at the Museum of the Revolution to ensure that “his people will always have him”. “We have decided to prepare the body of our Comandante President, to embalm it so that it remains open for all time for the people. Just like Ho Chi Minh. Just like Lenin. Just like Mao Zedong,” Maduro said.
Chavez will also lie in state for an additional seven days to accommodate those who want to pay their respects, as thousands queued to pass his casket yesterday at the Military Academy in Caracas. The embalming of Chavez came after his last words were revealed as “I don’t want to die. Please don’t let me die”.
A state funeral service was attended by 33 heads of state including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, and Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus. Yesterday, a former mayor of Caracas was petitioning the National Assembly to amend the Venezuelan constitution to enable Chavez to be laid to rest next to Simon Bolivar, the great Latin American revolutionary in the grand mausoleum Chavez built to venerate the independence hero — and now, perhaps, himself.
Like thousands of others, Angela Acosta,a 64-year-old hairdresser, queued for hours in the sapping heat to pass the open coffin where Chavez lay with a red sash on his stomach with the word “militia” — a reference to the 120,000-strong armed civilian force that he had formed. A four-man honor guard and four tall candelabras flanked the coffin, with a golden sword at its foot. Acosta admitted she was exhausted, but added: “I would have queued all night and the next day, if that had been necessary.”
The tradition of displaying socialist leaders began with Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union, upon his death in 1924. The practice was repeated with his successor, Joseph Stalin, in 1953, though the Georgian strongman’s body was later removed from Lenin’s tomb in 1961 at Premier Nikita Kruschev’s urging. Other Communist leaders such as Mao Zedong in China, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam and both Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il from North Korea have also been put on display.