In keeping with the day’s tone of reverence for El Comandante, Maduro cried when speaking of him and eulogized him as a Christ-like savior who had delivered Venezuela from darkness in 14 years of rule. He didn’t shy away from acknowledging the challenges he faced and stressed that he was thrust into his new role without wanting it.
“This sash belongs to Hugo Chavez, our commander in chief,” Maduro said, his voice cracking before a packed congressional hall.
The tributes began hours before at the funeral, as left-wing celebrities and heads of state from as far away as Iran filed into a hall in this city’s military academy to hear Chavez celebrated for having countered American influence while giving voice to the poor.
“Here you are, unconquered, pure, transparent, unique, true and alive for all times,” Maduro said loudly, nearly breaking down in tears, as many in attendance gasped with grief. “Comandante, they couldn’t bring you down and they will never be able to defeat us, ever.”
The government’s glorification of Chavez will extend long beyond the funeral: Chavez’s body is to be preserved and put on display for eternity in a glass coffin, a decision
that delighted many of his red-shirted followers.
“They will build a mausoleum so we can see him eternally,” said Jose Antonio Muñoz, 62, who was excited at the prospect of visiting the late president whenever he wanted. “That’s the first time that happens in Latin America!”
Political analysts said the elaborate ceremony put on by the government and the initiative to display Chavez’s body in perpetuity would help instill in people the idea that they must follow the president’s grand designs for Venezuela, which include heavy state intervention in the economy and leading like-minded countries in opposing American foreign policy.
The central beneficiary will be Maduro, whom Chavez handpicked as his successor in his last public speech, on Dec. 8. Maduro will face a presidential campaign in the weeks ahead as mandated by the constitution upon the death of the head of state.
“There is an order from Chavez,” said Rafael Romero, a political scientist at the Central University of Venezuela.
“Without a doubt, all these manifestations contribute,” Romero said of the deification of Chavez. “It’s a way of saying, ‘We can’t betray him, because we’re talking about continuing his legacy.’ ”
After being largely silent in the three days since Chavez’s death on Tuesday at age 58, the opposition on Friday rejected a controversial Supreme Court ruling made earlier in the day that declared that Maduro had become acting president when Chavez died. The ruling opens the door for Maduro to be the government’s candidate in an election because the constitution bars sitting vice presidents from running for president.