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Presidents, Dignitaries Gather For Hugo Chávez's Funeral

In this photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Cuba's President Raul Castro salutes as he stands next to the coffin containing the body of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez.

Presidents and dignitaries from around the globe are gathered in Caracas this morning to pay their final respects to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

CBS News reports:

"Hours before the visiting dignitaries arrived, Venezuelans in their hundreds of thousands were still filing past Chavez's glass-covered casket in a round-the-clock marathon of tears, prayers and military salutes. The last of what the Venezuelan government says are more than 30 heads of state arrived for the funeral early Friday. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad touched down after 1 a.m., and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera landed around dawn."

The funeral was held at a military academy in the nation's capitol. It was an intimate ceremony, where many of the leaders took turns to stand guard around Chávez's casket. Among those present: Cuban President Raúl Castro, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The United States sent a delegation including Rep. Gregory Meeks, former U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, and U.S. Embassy Caracas Chargé d'Affaires James Derham.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel conducted a children's choir toward the beginning the ceremony.

Time and time again, the announcer called Chávez the "supreme leader of the Bolivarian Revolution."

Symbolically, a sword was handed to Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who solemnly placed it on top of the flag-draped coffin.

Chávez's body will not be interred. Instead, as we reported Thursday, it will be embalmed and displayed in perpetuity.

Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep spoke to NPR's Juan Forero this morning and asked him what this might mean symbolically speaking for the Venezuelan revolution.

"The people who support Hugo Chávez say they want a continuation of his policies," Juan said. "Nicolas Maduro, tonight, is going to be sworn in as the president and he's been a long-time Chávez loyalist. So we would expect that the movement will continue."

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Of course, the constitution calls for elections within 30 days.

The ceremony is ongoing. TeleSur is streaming it live.

Update at 1:28 p.m. ET. Dudamel Conducts:

The BBC has added video of Gustavo Dudamel conducting a performance of the national anthem:

Update at 12:57 p.m. ET. A Prayer From Jesse Jackson:

During a prayer at the service, the U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson urged Venezuela and the United States to mend their relationship.

"While it may be politically difficult, it is the morally right thing to do," Jackson said.

Jackson also praised Chávez. Great leaders, he said, are judged by how they treat the lesser.

"Hugo fed the hungry; he lifted the poor; he raised their hopes," Jackson said.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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