The initial idea to embalm him — “like Lenin,” as the new president, Nicolas Maduro, put it — is still possible.
But Maduro said that plan may prove unworkable because the government waited too long to begin preparing the body for eternal viewing after Chavez died on March 5 following a long battle with cancer. That would have entailed draining fluid from his plump corpse and pumping chemicals through his arteries.
“More than his physical body, we have to have the Commander in eternal remembrance, especially this generation that heard him, touched him, that saw him,” said Maduro, Chavez’s hand-picked successor. “We have to have his image alive, his voice, his thoughts.”
Chavez’s body had been on display under glass at Venezuela’s version of West Point but was moved on Friday to the Museum of the Bolivarian Revolution a few hundred yards from the presidential palace where he ruled for 14 stormy years. Maduro said the next possible resting place could be the Pantheon in the city’s center, in a choice spot next to Chavez’s guiding light, the 19th-century liberation hero Simon Bolivar.
But in death, as in life, Chavez has caused an uproar, with some Venezuelans wondering how far the hero worship can go.
“We’re seeing the construction of a myth,” said Jose Bifano, a historian at the Central University of Venezuela. “They are looking to convert him into a myth with the objective of maintaining his movement. It’s blatant and manipulative.”
A difficult process
At the Military Academy, Chavez’s body had lain in state at an airy chapel, behind an encased gold sword, surrounded by flowers and flanked by two honor guards. Night and day, hundreds of thousands stood in line to enter and glimpse him, if only for a couple of seconds before guards moved them along.
El Comandante, a graduate of the academy, has been decked out in his military best — his broad chest covered in medals, a tri-colored presidential sash over his shoulder and beret snuggly fit over the top of his head. His fleshy face is dark burgundy. His eyes are shut tight. Dollops of make-up have erased creases.
“There is not much difference seeing him in life and in this state because he was a great man and great men don’t change,” said Rony Antonio Caracas, 27, moments after seeing the late president’s remains shortly after 1 a.m. on a recent day. “He looked spectacular, just as we expected.”
The grand plan had been to preserve the corpse so “our people can have him always, always there present and always with the people,” as Maduro explained shortly after Chavez died at age 58.
To make it all happen, said Francisco Fernandez, an expert on preserving corpses, Chavez’s body would have needed a massage to do away with puffiness. Undigested food would have been removed and chemicals injected. The body should have been thoroughly cleaned, bacteria eliminated.