CARACAS, Venezuela — Hugo Chavez’s body will be preserved and forever displayed inside a glass tomb at a military museum not far from the presidential palace from which he ruled for 14 years, his successor announced Thursday in a Caribbean version of the treatment given Communist revolutionary leaders such as Lenin, Mao and Ho Chi Minh.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s acting head of state, said Chavez would first lie in state for “at least” seven more days before the museum becomes his permanent home. It was not clear when exactly he would be moved from the military academy where his body has been since Wednesday.
Later Thursday, the National Assembly speaker announced that Maduro would be sworn in Friday night as acting president following a state funeral and would call elections within 30 days. That enables him, as the designated governing party candidate, to run for president as Chavez desired. Legal scholars say that under the constitution, the legislature’s speaker should instead be sworn in and organize the vote.
At the military academy, Chavez lay in a glass-covered coffin wearing the olive-green military uniform and red beret of his paratrooper days and looking gaunt and pale, his lips pressed together. In a nod to the insecurity that plagues this country, mourners had to submit to a pat down, pass through a metal detector and remove the batteries from their mobile phones before they entered.
Just hours before the 58-year-old president’s death on Tuesday, Maduro expelled two U.S. diplomats and lashed out at opponents at home and abroad. He implied that the cancer that ultimately killed Chavez was somehow injected into him by his enemies, a charge echoed by Ahmadinejad.
While Maduro is the clear favorite over likely opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, the nation is polarized between Chavez supporters and critics who hold him responsible for soaring inflation, a growing national debt and a jump in violent crime.
Opponents have also questioned the government’s allegiance to the rule of law, arguing that Maduro is not entitled to become interim president under the 1999 constitution. They have also criticized the defense minister, Adm. Diego Molero, for pledging support for Maduro’s candidacy despite a ban on the military taking political sides.
Venezuelan officials have yet to say what type of cancer he suffered from, but details were emerging of the former paratrooper’s final hours.