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At Chavez's coffin, Venezuelans vow more revolution
March 7, 2013 / 2:32 PM / 5 years ago

At Chavez's coffin, Venezuelans vow more revolution

* Emotional wake for Chavez draws huge crowds
    * Supporters pledge to back chosen heir Maduro
    * Body to lie in state until Friday burial

    By Patricia Velez and Terry Wade
    CARACAS, March 7 (Reuters) - Saluting, clenching fists and
making the Catholic sign of the cross over his open casket,
Venezuelans flocked on Thursday to see their deceased leader one
last time and pledge that his socialist revolution will not die.
    Tens of thousands of grieving supporters stood in lines that
snaked around a grandiose military academy in an mass show of
respect for Chavez, who died on Tuesday at age 58 after a
two-year battle with cancer.
    From soldiers in fatigues to officers in ceremonial dress,
senior ministers to residents of the slums where Chavez was most
loved during his 14 years in office, those in line vowed to
defend his legacy and back his preferred successor, acting
President Nicolas Maduro, in a new vote.
    "We want to see the president, we want to be there for his
last moments," said Trinidad Nunez, 40, outside the building
where Chavez's corpse will lie in state until an official
funeral on Friday. 
    "It is up to us to carry on the revolution and do what
Chavez asked us to do: support Maduro."
    Chavez's corpse was dressed in army uniform and the
signature red beret he wore in a 1992 speech to the nation that
launched his political career after a failed coup. 
    There is uncertainty over exactly when a vote will be held
in the OPEC country with the world's largest oil reserves.
    Though the constitution stipulates a new presidential poll
must be held within 30 days, politicians say election
authorities may not be ready in time and there is talk of a
possible delay beyond that.
    Maduro, 50, a former union leader who ended his education at
high school before plunging into politics, looks certain to face
opposition leader Henrique Capriles, 40, the centrist governor
of Miranda state who lost to Chavez in last year's election.
    Opposition sources told Reuters on Wednesday they have
agreed to again back Capriles, whose 44 percent vote share in
2012 was the best performance by any candidate against Chavez.
    One recent opinion poll gave Maduro a strong lead, and both
international markets and foreign diplomats are factoring in a
probable win for him, meaning a continuation of 'Chavista'
policies at least in the short term.
    The tall and hefty Maduro, who lacks Chavez's rhetorical
zeal, was his foreign minister for six years before being named
vice president in late 2012. 
    He has pledged to adhere to Chavez's brand of ferociously
nationalist politics and controversial economic policies that
included regular seizures of private businesses as well as
wildly popular social welfare programs.
    Some analysts believe that Maduro might eventually try to
ease tensions with Western investors and the U.S. government.
But just hours before Chavez's death, he was accusing
"imperialist" enemies of infecting the president with cancer and
he expelled two American diplomats for alleged conspiracies.
    Maduro may have to step down from his role as caretaker
president to launch his candidacy. One official source told
Reuters that Chavez's nephew, Science Minister Jorge Arreaza,
might step into that role.
    Capriles, an athletic career politician and trained lawyer
from a wealthy family, wants Venezuela to follow Brazil's softer
center-left model.
    The government still has not announced where Chavez will
finally be buried. Many Venezuelans assume he will be laid to
rest in his rural home town of Sabaneta in the heart of the
"llanos" where he was born in a house with a dirt floor.
    Some supporters, though, want him buried in a grand
mausoleum Chavez ordered built in Caracas for the remains of
19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, his hero.
    State media have been playing old Chavez speeches and songs
over and over. Opposition supporters have been keeping a low
profile, most simply expressing condolences but some privately
exulting at the demise of a man they viewed as a dictator who
trampled on opponents and ruined their economy.
    At the wake, Venezuelans strained for a glimpse of Chavez,
many welling up in tears as they reached his open casket.
    "I told him 'don't worry, Nicolas Maduro will be the new
president as you asked'," said nurse Maria Fernandez, 51, after
filing past the coffin.     

 (Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing Andrew
Cawthorne and Doina Chiacu)

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