CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez was lauded as a modern-day reincarnation of Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar and a disciple of Cuba’s Fidel Castro at a fiery, foot-stomping state funeral yesterday as presidents, princes and left-wing glitterati looked on.
Chavez’s hand-picked successor emotionally eulogized the fallen leader at the military academy where the funeral was held, his voice booming over Chavez’s flag-draped casket as he pledged eternal loyalty in a ceremony that at times smacked of a political rally.
“Here we are, Comandante, your men, on their feet,” Nicolas Maduro shouted, government officials rising behind him. “All your men and women ... loyal until beyond death.”
“Chavez Lives!” he declared. “Mission Accomplished!”
But all was not peace and harmony in a country deeply divided by Chavez’s 14 years in power.
Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles called Maduro a bald-faced liar and accused him of using the funeral to campaign for president. The opposition said it would boycott Maduro’s swearing-in later yesterday at the National Assembly, calling it unconstitutional, and Capriles spoke condescendingly of Maduro, calling him “boy.”
Capriles, who is likely to face Maduro in a special presidential election that is supposed to be called within 30 days of Chavez’s death, said the opposition had asked to attend Chavez’s funeral, but was told “better that you don’t come.”
The funeral began with Venezuela’s national youth orchestra singing the national anthem, led by famed conductor Gustavo Dudamel. A government-allied congressman later belted out cowboy songs from Chavez’s native Barinas state.
The streets outside the military academy took on a carnival atmosphere, with military bands launching into marches and an expanse of supporters wearing the red of Chavez’s socialist party. Street vendors sold paper replicas of the presidential sash, which many people in the line slipped over their shoulder.