As Russian and German scientists fly to Venezuela to help embalm Chavez’s body, acting President Nicholas Maduro has admitted that it may already be too late to preserve Chavez “for eternity.”
Chavez died last week at 58 after a two-year battle with cancer, and his body has been put on display in a glass-topped coffin at a military academy in the Venezuelan capital Caracas. Millions of people have visited to pay homage to the flamboyant late leader.
The Venezuelan government had said it wanted to embalm his body “for eternity,” in much the same way as Lenin and Stalin and Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
“We are in the middle of the process, it’s complicated. Russian and German scientists have arrived to embalm Chavez and they tell us it’s very difficult because the process should have started earlier. Maybe we can’t do it,” President Maduro said in televised comments on Wednesday.
The scientists may have started the process too late; an announcement will be made later this week as to whether the team will be able to immortalize the late Chavez.
A state funeral was held last week for the controversial late leader, during which world leaders and celebrities paid their respects. However, the largest outpouring of emotion by far has come from Chavez’s millions of poor supporters in Venezuela, many of whom viewed him with a kind of religious awe.
This collective mood was summed up by President Maduro when he addressed a crowd at the opening of the Book Fair of Venezuela in Caracas: “More than your physical body, we have the commander in eternal memory, especially this generation who heard it, touched it, saw him. We have to keep alive his image, his voice, his thinking.”
Maduro and his supporters from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela sang along to a recording of Chavez belting out the national anthem.
“I am not Chavez, but I am his son. And all together, the people, we are Chavez,” Maduro said.
A presidential election has been scheduled in Venezuela for April 14, and Maduro filed papers last Monday to officially run for president.
Though Maduro belongs to Chavez’s political party, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, 40, will be a strong opponent. “My fight is not to be president. My fight is for Venezuela to move forward,” Capriles said Sunday night.
Capriles ran against Chavez in last October’s election and lost, but it was the fiercest challenge to the former president’s rule during his 14 years in power.