David Smilde, a Venezuela expert at the University of Georgia, said he did not expect significant changes to come to Latin America following Chavez’s death, given that the leader’s endorsement is likely to boost Maduro at the polls.
“First, Maduro, who will likely win the presidency in the coming elections, was his foreign minister for the past six years and architect of Venezuela’s involvement in the region,” Smilde said.
“Chavez’s legacy is his legacy, and there will likely be continuity,” he said.
Throughout the day Wednesday, Venezuela’s vast state television apparatus played Chavez’s speeches and ran footage of him hugging followers and saluting adulatory crowds. State newspapers declared that even in death he remained “the guiding light” of this country of 29 million.
Chavez underwent a fourth cancer surgery in Cuba on Dec. 11 and never recovered, nor did he appear publicly again. He died at a military hospital here at 4:25 p.m. Tuesday, two weeks after arriving from Havana, where he was being treated, in the middle of the night.
Marlenis Vanegar, 75, said she had prayed for the president outside the military hospital, where groups of Chavistas — as Chavez’s followers call themselves — had gathered for vigils. “He left a legacy for us,” she said. “He awoke a people. Don’t anyone think that this revolution will now be lost. We will continue with the candidate that he left for us.”
The death of the leader seemed, at least for the moment, to bring a sense of relative calm to Venezuela, with the volume turned down on the political vitriol that had characterized the discourse of government officials and Chavez opponents in recent days.
“In the immense pain of this historic tragedy that has affected our fatherland, we call on all the compatriots to be vigilant for peace, love, respect and tranquility,” Maduro said on national TV. “We ask our people to channel this pain into peace.”
Capriles told the country that now was “not the time to highlight what separates us.”
Still, as Chavez lay in agony in recent days, it had begun to appear as if an unofficial campaign had already begun, with Maduro and Capriles directing highly personal attacks against each other. In a tense political environment, much of the country was talking about what would come after Chavez’s death. Now, Venezuelans are awaiting word on when the election will be held.
In the meantime, the Interior Ministry ordered a ban on alcohol sales and the carrying of guns in public through Tuesday.
The country is also wondering where Chavez will be buried. The leader had ordered a huge modernist mausoleum built for Bolivar — a structure that critics say looks like a skateboard ramp — in the center of Caracas. And now, many wonder whether Chavez’s body will wind up there.
“For his political brilliance and commitment to the country, Commander Chavez has earned his place beside the Liberator Simon Bolivar in the Pantheon,” said a longtime Chavez associate, Freddy Bernal, in comments quoted by the Reuters news agency.
Nick Miroff contributed to this report