‘Farewell forever, commander’: Tens of thousands of ‘Chavistas’ dressed in revolutionary red line streets to witness Hugo Chavez’s coffin carried through streets
Tens of thousands of ‘Chavistas’ dressed in revolutionary red lined the streets of Venezuela yesterday to witness President Hugo Chavez’s coffin being driven through the city centre.
His coffin, adorned with his country’s flag, was placed on the top of a car and driven slowly to the military academy where his body will lie in state for three days before a massive state funeral on Friday.
Chavez, who was 58, died after a two-year cancer battle that has been shrouded in secrecy. And it appears his death is to take on the same level of mystery as claims emerged yesterday that he died in a Cuban hospital instead of a military hospital in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas.
Residents participate in the funeral procession in honor of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on the streets of Caracas yesterday
A crowd accompanies the coffin of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez upon its arrival at the Military Academy in Caracas
Members of the military escort, the Venezuelan National Guard, hold a security fence during the funeral procession
Mourning: Thousands of residents lined the streets in Venezuela yesterday as the casket holding President Hugo Chavez was driven through the streets
Followers of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez observe the passing of the coffin with his remains at Paseo de los Proceres in Caracas, Venezuela
Rosa Virginia Chavez, daughter of Hugo Chavez, waves from inside a bus upon her arrival at the Military Academy yesterday
Spanish newspaper ABC claimed that after Chavez’s health deteriorated after he returned to Cuba on Friday for emergency treatment.
Unnamed sources told the paper Chavez was secretly moved back to Cuba and died there yesterday morning. ABC claims that Chavez died at 7am Cuban time when his family made the decision to withdraw care. To back up the claims it was noted that government ministers were not seen attending his bedside.
Yesterday there was a heavy military presence amid fears of unrest with soldiers deployed after Venezuelan officials called for peace and unity stating in television broadcasts that the government and the military were standing together.
The outspoken left-winger, was staunchly anti-American and enjoyed close ties to states such as Russia and Iran.
His death has left his supporters, named Chavista’s, devastated – Chavismo is the name given to the left-wing political ideology based on the ideas and government style associated with the late president.
Streets lined: Chavez, who was 58, will be laid to rest in a massive state funeral on Friday – his death was announced on Tuesday following a two-year battle against cancer
Military procession: His coffin, adorned with his country’s flag, was placed on the top of a car and driven slowly to the military academy where his body will lie in state for three days
Protection: There was a heavy military presence amid fears of unrest – soldiers have been deployed after Venezuelan officials have called for peace and unity stating in television broadcasts that the government and the military were standing together
Decision: Authorities have not yet said where the late Venezuelan President Chavez will be buried after his state funeral on Friday
Start of procession: The flag-draped coffin containing the body of Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez, left, is taken from the hospital where he died
Momentous: The crowd held out their mobile phones and cameras to capture the historic moment
Grief: His death has left his supporters, named Chavista’s, devastated
An honor guard cries during the funeral cortege
Yesterday Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he had fallen ‘martyr’ to a ‘suspect illness.’
Declaring a national day of mourning , Ahmadinejad hailed his close ally for ‘serving the people of Venezuela and defending human and revolutionary values.’
There was no shortage of emotional farewells to a socialist hero who some feel rivaled the revolutionaries of the 1960s.
Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez, whose ode to revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara became famous, used the song’s title words to bid farewell to Chavez on his blog.
‘Hasta siempre, comandante,’ he wrote, Spanish for ‘Farewell forever, commander.’
The late president’s orders for his succession appeared to be followed, with vice-president Nicolas Maduro – who accused the U.S. of causing Chavez’s cancer – taking control of the government and the country shut down for a week of mourning.
Maduro announced that the president died at 4.25pm local time in the country’s capital Caracas, using the broadcast to call for ‘unity, tranquility and understanding’.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has died in hospital at the age of 58 after developing a severe respiratory infection during his battle with cancer
Unity: Chavez died at 4:25pm local time in the country’s capital Caracas, according to the announcement
Distraught: Supporters of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez cry outside the military hospital where President Hugo Chavez died
Grief: Supporters of Chavez react after learning that the president has died
Reaction: Supporters embrace outside the military hospital after learning of Chavez’s death
Crowds: Supporters gather in Caracas after the announcement, waving the national flag and carrying a cutout of the President
Support: His charismatic style, anti-US rhetoric and oil-financed policies won favour among many Venezuelans
‘We have no doubt that commander Chavez was attacked with this illness,’ added Mr Maduro, blaming ‘imperialist’ foes led by the United States.
He said: ‘The old enemies of our fatherland looked for a way to harm his health.’
Mr Maduro called on Venezualans to be ‘dignified inheritors of the giant man’, adding: ‘Let there be no weakness, no violence. Let there be no hate. In our hearts there should only be one sentiment: Love. Love, peace and discipline.’
The news came just hours after two U.S. Embassy officials were expelled for allegedly meeting with military officers and planning to destabilise the country.
Controversial: Chavez was a fierce opponent of the U.S. and other western governments
Departed leaders: Chavez meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican City in May 2006
Analysts from Criminal Justice International Associates recently estimated that the Chávez Frías family in Venezuela has ‘amassed a fortune” similar to that of the Castro brothers in Cuba – value of $2 billion.
His death drew cheers from Venezuelan immigrants in the U.S. who hoped for change in their homeland, and tears in Caracas.
In downtown Caracas, shops and restaurants began closing and Venezuelans hurried home after hearing the news.
Many feared violence would surface and Raul Villegas, a Chavez supporter from western Caracas, told The Independent: ‘I will not be leaving my house for some time – I expect riots to be happening throughout the city. Caracas isn’t safe tonight.’
Venezuelans in the U.S. cheered and expressed cautious optimism that new elections will bring change to their homeland after the death of President Hugo Chavez.
‘My hope is that Venezuela will become a free country once again,’ said Elizabeth Gonazalez, 52, who wore a smiley face sticker on her sweater with the words, ‘Venezuela without Chavez.’
A jubilant celebration broke out in the Miami suburb of Doral late Tuesday after word spread of the death of the 58-year-old leftist. Many dressed in caps and T-shirts in Venezuela’s colors of yellow, blue and red.
‘He’s gone!’ dozens in the largely anti-Chavez community chanted.US President Barack Obama said that his country hoped to develop its relationship with Venezuela.
In a statement, he said: ‘At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government.
Ally: Chavez was close to Iran’s firebrand president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad
Long reign: After first being elected in 1998, Chavez was re-elected on two occasions
‘As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.’
British Foreign Secretary William Hague paid tribute to the leader, who he said left a ‘lasting impression’ on the country.
Mr Hague said: ‘I was saddened to learn of the death of President Hugo Chavez. As President of Venezuela for 14 years he has left a lasting impression on the country and more widely.
‘I would like to offer my condolences to his family and to the Venezuelan people at this time.’
Former mayor of London Ken Livingstone, who was a close ally of Chavez, took to Twitter to express his condolences for the leader’s death.
‘Hugo Chavez showed there is an alternative to neo-liberalism and colonialism in Venezuela and worldwide,’ the socialist firebrand wrote. ‘He was a friend and comrade.
‘The best tribute for Hugo Chavez is to redouble our efforts for a world free of exploitation and colonialism #RIP’
Seven days of mourning were declared, all school was suspended for the week and friendly heads of state were expected in this economically challenged and violence-afflicted nation for an elaborate funeral on Friday.
Venezuela’s constitution specifies that the speaker of the National Assembly, currently Diosdado Cabello, should assume the interim presidency if a president cannot be sworn in.
But the officials left in charge by Chavez before he went to Cuba in December for his fourth cancer surgery in a little less than two years have not been especially assiduous about heeding the constitution, and human rights and free speech activists are concerned they will continue to flaunt the rule of law.
Some in anguish, some in fear, Venezuelans raced for home and stocked up on food and water after the government announced Chavez’s death.
The country’s foreign minister Elias Jaua said that elections will be held in 30 days to determine who shall replace Chavez.
A government spokesman had earlier said that the far-left leader, who has held control in the country for 14 years, was in a ‘very delicate’ condition in hospital.
Promising that troops will safeguard the sovereignty of the country, he said Chavez had died after ‘battling a tough illness for nearly two years’.
He compared the situation to the death of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, claiming Arafat was ‘inoculated with an illness’.
Maduro is Chavez’s anointed successor and has been taking on a larger role since the socialist leader urged Venezuelans to choose him as president before disappearing in early December to undergo a fourth round of cancer surgery in Cuba.
Chavez married twice and divorced twice – he had three children with his first wife, Nancy Colmenarez: Rosa Virginia, Maria Gabriela and Hugo Rafael.
Years later, he married Marisabel Rodriguez, with whom he had a fourth daughter, Rosa Ines, but divorced in 2003.
Leader: Chavez had run Venezuela for more than 14 years, gradually placing all state institutions under his personal control
Election: Chavez’s death is expected to trigger an election to determine who will replace the socialist leader
World leader: Chavez pictured with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in 2001
Venezuela has had no first lady since then.
Supporters gathered on the streets of the capital following the announcement, many in tears, brandishing effigies and national flags.
‘I feel a sorrow so big I can’t speak,’ said Yamilina Barrios, a 39-year-old clerk who works in the Industry Ministry, her face covered in tears. ‘He was the best this country had,’ she said.
A group of masked, helmeted men on motorcycles, some brandishing revolvers attacked about 40 students after the announcement.
The students had been protesting for more than a week near the Supreme Court building to demand the government give more information about Chavez’s health.
The attackers, who wore no clothing identifying any political allegiance, burned the students’ tents and scattered their food just minutes after the death was announced.
Details of Chavez’s health, who championed a leftist revival across Latin America, have been cloaked in mystery since he was first diagnosed with the disease in June 2011.
Celebration: Chavez talking to reporters after being freed from jail for organising a failed coup in 1992
In jail: Chavez, top left, with his fellow plotters after they were imprisoned for their coup attempt
Family: Chavez aged 21 with his parents Elena and Hugo graduating from military academy
Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas earlier appeared on national television to announce that the president was suffering from ‘a new, severe infection’.
The president had neither been seen nor heard from, except for a couple of hospital bed photos, since the surgery in Cuba for an unspecified cancer in the pelvic area.
The Government said he returned home on February 18 and had been confined to Caracas’ military hospital since.
Villegas said that Chavez was ‘standing by Christ and life conscious of the difficulties he faces’.
The president’s death is expected to trigger a snap election in 30 days, though the opposition has argued that it should have been held after Chavez was unable to be sworn in on January 10.
Mr Maduro called on Venezuelans to convene in the capital’s Bolivar Square, named for the 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, who Chavez claimed as his chief inspiration.
The vice president also called on the opposition to respect ‘the people’s pain’.
Announcement: The country’s vice president Nicolas Maduro made the announcement on television surrounded by other officials
Chemotherapy: Chavez in 2011, pointing at his head to prove his hair was growing back
Chavez had not been seen in public nor heard from since having surgery in Cuba on December 11.
It was his fourth operation since the disease was detected in his pelvic area in mid-2011.
The death of Chavez, who modelled himself on the 19th century independence leader Simon Bolivar and renamed his country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, will devastate millions of supporters.
His charismatic style, anti-US rhetoric and oil-financed policies that brought subsidised food and free health clinics to long-neglected slums won him widespread support.
The campaigning has already unofficially begun, with vice president Maduro, who Chavez has said should succeed him, frequently commandeering all broadcast channels to promote the ‘revolution’ and vilify the opposition.
The vote for a new president should be held within 30 days and will probably pit the socialist Maduro against Henrique Capriles, the centrist leader and state governor who lost to Chavez in the October.
Chavez has run Venezuela for more than 14 years as a virtual one-man show, gradually placing all state institutions under his personal control.
But the former army paratroop officer who rose to fame with a failed 1992 coup, never groomed a successor with his force of personality.
Chavez was last re-elected in October, and his challenger Henrique Capriles, the youthful governor of Miranda state, is expected to be the opposition’s candidate again.
Family: Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez hugs his daughters Rosa (left) and Maria (right) while appearing to supporters on a balcony of Miraflores Palace soon after his return to the country from Cuba in July 2011
Proof of life: Chavez was also pictured looking at the Cuba Communist Party newspaper Granma
Commanding: Chavez polarised Venezuelans with his confrontational and domineering style
One of Chavez’s three daughters, Maria Gabriela, earlier expressed thanks to well-wishers via her Twitter account. ‘We will prevail!’ she wrote, echoing a favorite phrase of her father. ‘With God always.’
There had been speculation that Chavez’s cancer has spread to his lungs. Maduro said last week that the president had begun receiving chemotherapy around the end of January.
Doctors have said that such therapy was not necessarily to try to beat Chavez’s cancer into remission but could have been palliative, to extend Chavez’s life and ease his suffering.
While in Cuba, Chavez suffered a severe respiratory infection that nearly killed him. A tracheal tube was inserted then and government officials said his breathing remained laboured.
Tributes were paid to the politician by world leaders and celebrities, including his friend Sean Penn, who said: ‘Today the United States lost a friend it never knew it had’.
The actor added: ‘Poor people around the world lost a champion. I lost a friend I was blessed to have. My thoughts are with the family of President Chavez and the people of Venezuela.’
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who survived cancer, said: ‘Today a great Latin American died. On many occasions, the Brazilian government did not fully agree with President Hugo Chavez but today, as always, we recognize in him a great leader, an irreparable loss and, above all, a friend of Brazil.’
Influence: Hugo Chavez being greeted by former Prime Minister Tony Blair during a visit to Downing Street
Coup: Chavez was first elected president in 1998, after he led a failed coup in 1992
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said in a televised address: ‘We undoubtedly had our differences, but I was always able to appreciate the strength, the engagement with which Chavez fought for his ideas.
‘When his illness worsened and he had to return to Cuba, I called him and I remember he told me … that if he had to face death, he wanted to do it in his country, in his beloved Venezuela.’
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told reporters: ‘The obsession that united us and that was the base of our relationship was peace in Colombia and the region. If we’ve advanced in a solid peace process it’s also thanks to the dedication and commitment without limits of President Chavez and the Venezuelan government.’
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams remembered Chavez, who he said had worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Venezuelan citizens.
He said: ‘He dedicated himself to building a new and radical society in Venezuela. His progressive social and economic changes took millions out of poverty.
‘He extended free health care and education for all citizens and his re-election last year with a huge majority was testimony to his vision.’
Irish President Michael D Higgins said: ‘I was very sorry to hear of the death, after a long illness, of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
‘President Chavez achieved a great deal during his term in office, particularly in the area of social development and poverty reduction.’
After nightfall, several hundred people gathered at Bolivar Square, a symbolic place for Chavistas because it has a huge nine-meter-tall (30-foot-tall) statue of Simon Bolivar, the 19th century independence hero whom Chavez claimed as his chief inspiration.
Some arrived singing Venezuela’s national anthem and holding up posters of Chavez.
One man began shouting through a megaphone a warning to the opposition: ‘They won’t return.’ The crowd then joined in, chanting: ‘They won’t return.’
Chavez leaves behind a political movement firmly in control of a nation that human rights activist
Liliana Ortega, director of the non-governmental group COFAVIC, describes as a badly deteriorated state where institutions such as the police, courts and prosecutor’s offices have been converted into tools of political persecution and where most media are firmly controlled by the government.
THE LEADER WHO PROMISED TO CARRY ON BEFORE ILLNESS TOOK HOLD
Feb 4 1992 – Lt. Col. Chavez leads unsuccessful coup against President Carlos Andres Perez
March 26 1994 – After two years in jail awaiting trial, Chavez is set free
Dec 6 1998 – Becomes president, promising to seek ‘third way’ between socialism and capitalism
July 30 2000 – Elected to new six-year term
April 11, 2002 – Protesters demand Chavez’s resignation marching toward presidential palace. Dissident generals oust Chavez and clear way for interim government that throws out constitution.
April 14 2002 – After protests by supporters, loyal army officers rescue Chavez and restore power
Dec 3 2006 – Re-elected to six-year term, capturing 63 percent of the vote
Dec 2 2007 – Voters reject constitutional amendments proposed by Chavez, setting back his drive to transform Venezuela into socialist state
Feb 15 2009 – Wins referendum that allows him to run for re-election indefinitely
June 10 2011 – Chavez undergoes surgery in Cuba for pelvic abscess
June 30 2011 – Appears on television saying he had a cancerous tumor removed
July 4 2011 – Returns to Venezuela, but travels to Cuba periodically for chemotherapy and tests
Feb 21 2012 – Announces doctors found lesion in same place where tumor was removed
March 24 2012 – Travels to Cuba to begin radiation therapy
July 9 2012 – Says at a news conference that tests have shown he is ‘totally free’ of cancer
Oct 7 2012 – Wins another six-year term, beating challenger Henrique Capriles by 11-point margin
Dec 9 2012 – Announces that his cancer has returned and that he needs surgery again
Dec 11 2012 – Undergoes his fourth cancer-related operation in Cuba
March 5 2012 – Government announces death of Hugo Chavez