Saturday 16 December 2017

From Ahmadinejad to Castro, controversial cast mourns 'El Comandante'

Officials attend the funeral ceremony for Hugo Chavez at the military academy in
Caracas, Venezuela.
Officials attend the funeral ceremony for Hugo Chavez at the military academy in Caracas, Venezuela.

Tim Walker in Caracas

His casket closed and cloaked in the Venezuelan tricolour, Hugo Chavez was celebrated yesterday at a funeral ceremony in Caracas attended by 32 heads of state, 54 foreign delegations, and hundreds of thousands of grieving Chavistas.

The controversial Venezuelan president, known as 'El Comandante', died on Tuesday aged 58, following a two-year fight against cancer.

The mourners at the city's military academy were led by Mr Chavez's mother, Elena Frias, and his chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro, who was yesterday ratified as Venezuela's interim president by the country's Supreme Court.

Many of the foreign delegates came from nearby Latin American nations such as Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Colombia and Guatemala.

Cuba was represented by its 81-year-old president, Raul Castro, a close friend of Mr Chavez. Representatives from Spain, Russia and China were joined by the British ambassador to Venezuela, Catherine Nettleton.

Alexander Lukashenko, president of 'Europe's last dictatorship', Belarus, was seated alongside the Iranian leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; both men received standing ovations as they were introduced as part of an "honour guard" flanking the coffin.


Roy Chaderton, Chavez's former foreign minister and now the Venezuelan ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), said he was not surprised to see so many foreign dignitaries at the event.

"The opposition is surprised, because they are feeble-minded," Mr Chaderton said.

"They said that under Chavez, Venezuela had become an isolated state, but the opposite is true: it's no small thing that so many leaders took time away from their own national issues to be here today."

Despite a swirl of anti-American rhetoric in the days since Mr Chavez's death, not to mention the expulsion of two US Embassy officials, the US was represented at the funeral by Democratic congressman Gregory Meeks, and former Democratic congressman William Delahunt.

Civil rights leader, the Rev Jesse Jackson, who spoke at the ceremony following a Catholic Mass, said he was "deeply saddened" by Mr Chavez's death.

Mr Jackson met the late Venezuelan president in Caracas in 2005, afterwards insisting Mr Chavez posed no threat to the US.

"We play baseball and trade resources and fight drugs together, and share dreams," he told mourners yesterday.

One of Mr Chavez's closest regional allies, the Argentinian president, Cristina Kirchner, left Caracas the night before the funeral, citing the heat and her health. Ms Kirchner viewed the casket and paid her respects to Mr Chavez, right, on Thursday. Meanwhile, the late president's civilian supporters massed outside the academy, craning to see the ceremony on giant television screens.

Not everyone in Caracas mourned the president's passing, however, despite the declaration of a national holiday.

Across the city in the well-to-do Sifrinos neighbourhood, 30-year-old Alejandro Leon was using the day off to wash his car.

Mr Leon, who works in tourism, plans to move to the US in April, to escape the country's soaring crime rate and debt-laden economy.

"(Mr Chavez) gave all the nations around us money to improve their security and their highways, but in Venezuela we still have all those problems.

"The people who came to the ceremony today are here to make sure the money keeps flowing to their countries."

On Thursday, Mr Maduro announced that the late president's body would be embalmed before going on permanent display in a crystal casket at a military museum in Caracas, "Just like Ho Chi Minh. Just like Lenin. Just like Mao Zedong."

This, he said, would mean that "his people will always have him". He told Venezuelans, "You will see the Comandante. He belongs to you."

Irish Independent

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