Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left Tehran today to attend Hugo Chavez's funeral. But that's not all -- in his condolences for the former Venezuelan president, Ahmadinejad said he has “no doubt Chavez will return to Earth together with Jesus and the perfect” Imam Mahdi, the most revered figure of Shiite Muslims, according to AP.
Ahmadinejad also said the three men will together “establish peace, justice and kindness” in the world, and that he is “suspicious” about the cause of Chavez’s cancer.
Intriguingly, Ahmadinejad -- who had close ties with Chavez, and who has coined some colorful quotes before -- is not the only one speaking of Chavez in almost messianic terms. Bolivian President Evo Morales said in a teary, televised speech on March 5 that "Chavez is more alive than ever," reports AP.
An editorial in the Venezuelan daily El Nacional said Chavez built the state "in his image and likeness," an echo of the biblical creation story. The Venezuelan government also ran ads of Chavez's smiling face under the phrase "hasta la victoria siempre" -- "toward victory forever," present tense.
Wednesday, mourners crowding the streets of Caracas for Chavez's funeral procession shouted "Chavez lives!” as his coffin went by.
Chavez is, of course, not the first or last Latin American leader to get the rhetorical double-billing with God. Former Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo famously went by the phrase "Dios y Trujillo," as if they played on the same team. Fidel Castro, Chavez's mentor, has said that God protected him from former President George W. Bush.
If anything, the reincarnation rhetoric seems to speak to Chavez's larger-than-life cult of personality in some corners of Venezuelan society. That does observably live on -- even after his death.