THE Venezuelan government announced last night, less than 12 hours before the state funeral of president Hugo Chavez was scheduled to begin, that the late leader is to lie in state for “at least seven more days” before being “embalmed so that he may be viewed for all eternity”.
Speaking from state television network VTV, interim president Nicholas Maduro said Chavez’s body was to lie for “seven further days at least, so that he may be seen by his supporters from all over Latin America”.
The government’s primary reason for the sudden decision was that the demand to see the president lying in state from the Venezuelan people was simply “too high to ignore”.
“We have a responsibility to the Venezuelan people,” said former energy minister Rafael Ramirez, who is now president of state oil company PDVSA. “The turnout to see the president has been far higher than we anticipated and the desires of the people must come first.”
Luis Vincente Leon, head of local polling firm Datanalysis, said: “It’s quite transparently a move to crush the opposition. Perhaps the socialists weren’t prepared for elections, but there’s no way the opposition would have expected this.
“It’s a fantastic piece of politics when you think about it.”
The director of the polling firm, which has made accurate predictions in recent years, added: “They have their finger on the pulse of the national feeling, the people recently have shown how they want more of their hero, and here they are giving it to them.”
Delegations from more than 50 countries have arrived in Venezuela for the state funeral. Among the more prominent figures were Cuban president Raul Castro and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, with whom Chavez courted United Nations controversy by establishing close political relations during his 14-year tenure.
A date for the emergency election has yet to be set by the government, although it is expected to be announced after Chavez’s state funeral.