THE sanctification of Venezuela's charismatic leader Hugo Chavez continued in earnest as his last words were revealed to be "Please don't let me die" – uttered because, the government said, he so desperately wanted to continue serving the Venezuelan people.
The account of Mr Chavez's final moments came as hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans stood for hours in a queue estimated to be a mile long to file past their former president's open casket as he lay in state in the Military Academy in Caracas.
"He couldn't speak but he said it with his lips... 'I don't want to die. Please don't let me die,' because he loved his country, he sacrificed himself for his country," said General Jose Ornella, the head of Mr Chavez's presidential guard. .
The veneration of Mr Chavez, who lost a long battle with cancer on Tuesday, took on an overtly religious symbolism as preparations continued for a massive state funeral in Caracas today to be attended by his allies around the world, including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, and Alexander Lukashenko, the dictatorial president of Belarus.
"Since the day President Chavez was born into this world he was destined to save us," said Angela Acosta, a 64-year-old hairdresser who, like many Chavez devotees, used the language and imagery of Christianity to express their veneration of their charismatic president.
Others among the crimson-clad crowds carried framed pictures of the crucifixion, with pictures of Mr Chavez and Simon Bolivar, the great Latin American revolutionary in whose name the president framed his own 14-year 'socialist revolution'.
Yesterday a former mayor of Caracas was petitioning the National Assembly to amend the Venezuelan constitution to enable Mr Chavez to be laid to rest next to Mr Bolivar in the grand mausoleum that Mr Chavez built to venerate the independence hero – and now, perhaps, himself.
However, by yesterday lunchtime. no official pronouncement had been made about where Mr Chavez will be buried.
Like hundreds of thousands of others, Mrs Acosta queued for hours in the sapping heat to pass the open coffin where Mr Chavez lay with a red sash on his stomach. A four-man honour guard and four tall candelabras flanked the coffin, with a golden sword at its foot.
As the official mourning continues, opposition groups kept a low profile, although they indicated that they had agreed that Henrique Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda State, will run against in the general election which the constitution dictates must be held in the coming months.
Mr Capriles's opponent will be Nicolas Maduro, the vice-president who Mr Chavez designated as his successor but who has nothing like the charisma of Venezuela's recently departed leader.
A recent opinion poll suggested that Mr Maduro should win the election, but as Venezuela grapples with high crime, poor infrastructure and 20pc inflation, it is far from clear that he will have the personal authority to preserve the Chavez revolution in the years to come. (© Daily Telegraph, London)