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Venezuela To Display Chavez Body For Perpetuity


Thousands of Venezuelans have been filling the streets this week, listening to music and lining up to see the coffin of their leader, Hugo Chavez, who died on Tuesday. Leaders from around the world have also come to the capital city, Caracas, for a funeral which formally takes place today. And in keeping with his often larger-than-life persona, the Venezuelan government plans to embalm Chavez and keep his body on display under glass, in perpetuity. NPR's Juan Forero is in Caracas, following events there. Hi, Juan.


INSKEEP: What was it like, being out among those crowds?

FORERO: Well, it was fantastic, really. I mean, there was just huge crowds. On Wednesday, a day after Chavez died, he was taken from the hospital, where he died, to the military academy. And there were just huge throngs of people in the streets, following along as the hearse took the casket all the way over to the military academy. And since then, the government has basically set up this public viewing. So streets have been closed, and people have just gotten in line from early in the morning, until late at night to see their comandante, as he's been known.

INSKEEP: Okay. And when we hear this plan to put his body under glass, I'm reminded of what the people in the old Soviet Union did with the body of Lenin. That's the plan, not to let him go?

FORERO: Well, exactly. Yesterday, Nicolas Maduro, who's the vice president, came on television, and he said that they are going to be embalming Chavez. And he said that for eternity, people are going to have him. This is something that's been done before in the world. He said it was just like Mao, just like Lenin in the old Soviet Union.

INSKEEP: Well, maybe this is telling us something we need to know, here, because people have been wording if Venezuela's policies, either at home or abroad, might change, might begin to evolve once Chavez was gone. But if the leaders of the government don't even want to let him go, maybe that tells us our answer.

FORERO: Well, they don't want to let him go, and the people who supported Chavez say they want a continuation of his policies. You know, they say we want Chavismo - as the movement is known - without Chavez. And Nicolas Maduro, tonight, is going to be sworn in as the new president, and he's been a longtime Chavez loyalist. So we would expect that the policies would continue. We'll just have to see.

INSKEEP: Okay. So Maduro becomes the president, at least for now. But isn't there supposed to be an election rather quickly?

FORERO: Well, yes. The constitution says that once a president dies, there has to be an election, and it has to be in about 30 days. I think that an election that would take place soon would also benefit Maduro, because there is the sympathy vote right now. And polls have shown that people probably would be supporting Nicolas Maduro. So a good chance that Chavismo is going to continue far into the future.

INSKEEP: Although, let me ask about that, Juan Forero, because this is a man who overcame his opposition throughout his rule, but nevertheless, did have an opposition that seemed gradually to be getting more organized in recent years. Is there a chance for them to make significant gains with the personality that they fought against out of the way?

FORERO: I think that's a clear possibility, because Chavez really was the heart and soul of all of this. I mean, everything revolved around Chavez. And the opposition was able to unite, and they united under a young politician named Henrique Capriles, who ran against Chavez in October. He did pretty well on the campaign trail, but in the end, he did lose the election in October. And then in December, the opposition also lost a whole host of governorships around the country.

So they were a bit of a disarray after that. And really, at this point, it does look difficult, because people really are out in the streets, and they're talking about how they want a continuation of this.

INSKEEP: Does Chavez's successor - if it proves to be Maduro in the longer term, or somebody else - have the money to continue Chavez's socialist policies both at home and abroad?

FORERO: Well, I think, you know, a big question is: Did Chavez have the money, too? Because this country is in a serious economic problem right now. The deficit is absolutely huge. And, of course, they turn on the spigot when the elections come, and they start to spend. And we would expect the same thing now. But the economy really is dysfunctional at the moment, and I think that that's one of the key problems that whoever winds up in the presidency's going have to face.

I mean, they're going to have to pay for everything that's happened before.

INSKEEP: NPR's Juan Forero is in Caracas, Venezuela. Juan, thanks very much.

FORERO: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Juan Forero
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