CARACAS: Venezuelans have flocked to see President Hugo Chavez lying in state, as his heir revealed that he would be embalmed “like Lenin” and displayed in the barracks where he plotted a failed coup.
As people streamed to pay their respects, interim leader Nicolas Maduro said the late leftist firebrand would be transferred after a state funeral on Friday to the Caracas “Mountain Barracks” to lie in public for seven more days.
The former paratrooper, whose socialist revolution delighted the poor and infuriated the wealthy, will be embalmed “like Ho Chi Minh, Lenin and Mao” and kept in a glass casket to be seen “for eternity,” Mr Maduro said.
The barracks are being converted into a Museum of the Revolution.
It was there that Chavez had spearheaded what proved to be a failed coup against president Carlos Andres Perez on February 4, 1992.
His arrest turned him into hero, leading to his 1998 election victory.
But Mr Maduro suggested that Chavez may one day be moved elsewhere, a nod to popular pressure for him to be taken to the national pantheon to lie alongside Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar.
Chavez lay in state in a half-open glass-covered casket in the Caracas military academy, wearing olive green military fatigues, a black tie and the iconic red beret that became a symbol of his 14-year socialist rule.
His body was supposed to lie in state until Friday.
But the government said more than two million people came to get a glimpse of their hero, whose petrodollar-fuelled socialism earned him friends and foes at home and abroad.
Many had stood in line through the night.
“He’s in there, but my comandante is immortal,” said Saul Mantano, a 49-year-old salesman with a hat emblazoned with Chavez’s name and Venezuelan flag.
“I didn’t want to see him dead, but it’s a reality now.”
Chavez lay with a red sash across his torso bearing the word “militia” – the 120,000-strong armed civilian force that he had formed to spearhead his so-called Bolivarian Revolution.
A four-man honour guard and four tall candelabras flanked the coffin, with a golden sword at the foot of it.
The country gave Chavez a rousing send-off through the streets of Caracas on Wednesday, one day after he lost his battle with cancer at the age of 58, with a sea of people in red shirts throwing flowers on his coffin.
At the front of the procession was Mr Maduro, who walked the entire seven-hour march to the academy and is now gearing up for the elections that must be called within 30 days.
The academy opened to the public after a ceremony late on Wednesday with Chavez’s tearful mother, three daughters and son, a group of aides and the presidents of Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay, all close allies.