Venezuelans Line Streets for Chavez Procession
(CNN) — The political outcome in the wake of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s death remains uncertain, but in plazas across the country Wednesday, his followers made it clear they support a continuation of his policies.
Chavez put social programs at the center of his government, and his most fervent supporters credit him with providing their livelihood.
“Chavez gave us everything,” one mourner said on state-run television.
A new election will be held within 30 days, possibly signaling a new path for the oil-rich nation.
Thousands of Venezuelans lined the streets of the capital Wednesday morning as Chavez’s remains were taken from the military hospital where he died to the Fuerte Tiuna Military Academy in Caracas.
Chavez’s simple wooden casket, draped in the Venezuelan flag, was held by soldiers as a priest recited a prayer and blessing on the late president. The casket was placed on top of a hearse decorated with flowers and wreaths, which slowly made its way toward the military academy.
The streets were a sea of green and red, as soldiers and red-clad supporters followed the procession.
Some wept as the casket passed by, while others stretched out their arms to take pictures with their phones.
Presidents arrived in the country for the funeral, including Uruguay’s Jose Mujica, Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.
The country has declared seven days of mourning, closed schools for the rest of the week and deployed armed forces to “guarantee peace.”
It was the Chavez faithful who were out in force Wednesday, but there remains a sizable and strong opposition to the ruling party.
One man said he fled Venezuela as a teenager because there was no future there under Chavez.
“I left Venezuela because my brother got kidnapped, our house got burglarized, cars stolen,” Carlos Quijada said. “My parents had an import business and the currency controls made it impossible for them to import anything anymore.”
Quijada says he has hope that things will improve with Chavez’s absence.
“My life was completely altered because of that man. And I will not hide the fact that I am happy that he is no longer alive,” he said.
Another Venezuelan, a music teacher named Juan Francisco who splits his time between his home country and Europe, says he does not rejoice at Chavez’s death but has a number of reasons why he won’t miss him.
Chavez was hypocritical on many key issues such as democracy and security, he wrote in a CNN iReport.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro, the interim president, has made no mention of running for election, but he is widely expected to be the United Socialist Party of Venezuela’s candidate for the job.
During Chavez’s absence from the political stage over the past three months, Maduro has been front and center. He has spoken at political rallies around the country and delivered updates about the president on national television, drawing growing support from Chavez loyalists.
Opposition critics said he was campaigning for office — a claim the government denied. Even as it was announced that Maduro would temporarily assume the presidency, some questioned whether that was constitutional, since Chavez missed his inauguration and was never officially sworn in.
Opposition politicians haven’t said who will represent them in the election. But as speculation mounted about Chavez’s health in recent weeks, many had turned to Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in October’s presidential contest.
On Tuesday, Capriles called for a national dialogue including all Venezuelans, not just Chavez’s supporters.
“Today there are thousands, maybe millions, of Venezuelans who are asking themselves what will happen, who feel anxiety, and including those who feel afraid,” Capriles said.
CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet and Dana Ford contributed to this report.
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