Chanting “Chavez lives!” the mourners poured into central Caracas from rough hillside barrios and rural towns, vowing that their hero’s self-styled socialist revolution would endure beyond his death.
“He gave us the instructions and we will all follow them. We are all Chavez,” said Elia Cuba, a 59-year-old accountant.
Specifically, Chavez instructed his supporters to vote for Nicolas Maduro, the country’s interim president and the man now tapped to carry forth the leftist blend of socialism, nationalism and electoral patronage known as “Bolivarianism,” after 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar, Chavez’s idol.
Even as several of Chavez’s closest allies arrived in Caracas to bid farewell, governments were scrambling to calculate what his death might mean beyond Venezuela. Although he irritated the United States with his alliance with Iran, Chavez built many relationships through his leftist ideology and multibillion-dollar oil diplomacy, which injected Venezuela and its shaky politics into many economies.
Chavez forged particularly close ties to Cuba, providing Havana with about 100,000 barrels of subsidized oil a day, and receiving in return thousands of Cuban workers, from intelligence agents to doctors and sports trainers.
“Latin America has never had a more generous benefactor than Chavez,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington think tank Inter-American Dialogue.
“His death doesn’t mean an abrupt cutoff of such aid, but it will probably result in a gradual reduction, especially as economic difficulties and fiscal pressures become more acute in Venezuela,” Shifter said, citing the country’s huge debts, soaring inflation and chronic shortages.
Chavez was the first of a wave of Latin American leftist leaders who have won and held on to office since the Cold War era, and now figures such as Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner say they will carry on Chavez’s goals for regional integration.
The government has announced that an election will be held within a month, but with no date set, speculation is growing that Maduro could try to schedule the vote for as soon as possible, capitalizing on the emotions unleashed by Chavez’s death after a nearly two-year bout with cancer.
Maduro is expected to face opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez by 11 percentage points in October’s presidential election.