CARACAS, Venezuela — Hugo Chavez’s body will be preserved and forever displayed inside a glass tomb at a military museum not far from the presidential palace from which he ruled for 14 years, his successor announced Thursday in a Caribbean version of the treatment given Communist revolutionary leaders such as Lenin, Mao and Ho Chi Minh.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s acting head of state, said Chavez would first lie in state for “at least” seven more days at the museum, which will eventually become his permanent home. It was not clear when exactly he would be moved from the military academy where his body has been since Wednesday.
A state funeral will be held Friday attended by more than 30 heads of government, including Cuban President Raul Castro and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, and former Rep. William Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts, will represent the United States, which Chavez often portrayed as a great global evil even as he sent the country billions of dollars in oil each year.
Maduro said the ceremony would begin at 11 a.m., but did not say where.
“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.
He said the body would be held in a “crystal urn” at the Museum of the Revolution, a stone’s throw from Miraflores presidential palace.
The announcement followed two emotional days in which Chavez’s supporters compared him to Jesus Christ, and accused his national and international critics of subversion.
A sea of sobbing, heartbroken humanity jammed Venezuela’s main military academy Thursday to see Chavez’s body, some waiting 10 hours under the twinkling stars and the searing Caribbean sun to file past his coffin. On Thursday night, Castro and Uruguayan President Jose Mujica visited the viewing site.
But even as his supporters tried to immortalize the dead president, a country exhausted from round-the-clock mourning began to look toward the future. Some worried openly whether the nation’s anointed leaders are up to the task of filling his shoes, and others said they were anxious for news on when elections will be held. The constitution mandates they be called within 30 days, but the government has yet to address the matter.
“People are beginning to get back to their lives. One must keep working,” said 40-year-old Caracas resident Laura Guerra, a Chavez supporter who said she was not yet sold on Maduro, the acting head of state and designated ruling party candidate. “I don’t think he will be the same. I don’t think he has the same strength that the ‘comandante’ had.”
At the military academy, Chavez lay in a glass-covered coffin wearing the olive-green military uniform and red beret of his paratrooper days and looking gaunt and pale, his lips pressed together. In a nod to the insecurity that plagues this country, mourners had to submit to a pat down, pass through a metal detector and remove the batteries from their mobile phones before they entered.
As they reached the coffin, many placed a hand on their heart or stiffly saluted. Some held up children so they could see Chavez’s face.
“I waited 10 hours to see him, but I am very happy, proud to have seen my comandante,” said 46-year-old Yudeth Hurtado, sobbing.
Government leaders had been largely incommunicado Wednesday as they marched in a seven-hour procession that brought Chavez’s body from a military hospital to the academy.