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Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ body is being moved today from the Military Academy of Caracas to the city’s military museum, marking the end of a nine-day open casket service that has drawn thousands of the late president’s followers to the capital city.
The lines of people waiting to get a glimpse of Chávez’ body have blocked some the main avenues in Caracas for nine consecutive days. On average, Chávez’ followers have had to wait more than eight hours to approach the casket for mere seconds, purchasing pictures, t-shirts and other souvenirs of the president at makeshift stands that clutter the site of the academy.
Musical groups from across the country have come to Caracas to perform the president’s favorite songs and to rally a mourning crowd for next month’s presidential elections, setting up stages along the lines and turning them into an important political space for the chavista forces in Venezuela.
The elections are scheduled for April 14 and will feature seven presidential candidates, of whom only two have a real chance at winning.Following Chávez’ final orders, the government will present former Vice-President and current interim President Nicolás Maduro as its candidate—a man who was once a bus driver in Caracas and who now inherits Chávez’ political movement.
The opposition will present Henrique Capriles Radonski, who recently stepped down as governor of the state of Miranda to participate in the elections. Capriles competed against Chávez for the presidency last October, and was the only political challenger who ever came close to defeating the president.
The upcoming campaign will most likely be a fierce and divisive period for Venezuela. The opposition will continue to question Maduro’s constitutional legitimacy as the acting president and will have to mobilize a political base that is still recovering from two electoral defeats in late 2012. On the other, the government will work to debase Capriles’ leadership and to keep its supporters on the streets, promising to continue Chavez’s revolution.
In contrast to last October’s election, the opposition has also opted for a strategy of confrontation. In recent days, Capriles has accused Maduro of being one of Chávez’ most incompetent collaborators, claiming that Maduro usurped the presidential chair after Chavez’ passing and is unscrupulously using the president’s death for his own political gain.
As Chávez’ casket travels the streets of Caracas, the stage is set for a historic election in Venezuela—the first in more than 14 years to take place in the absence of Hugo Chávez.
Over the next three weeks, Capriles and Maduro will travel across Venezuela, spreading their message to the country. Chávez supporters will be asked to fulfill the late president’s will and elect Maduro. Those on the opposition will be reminded of Venezuela’s precarious economic outlook, of the galloping rates of criminality and inflation in the country, and of their chance to decide between continuing Chávez’s revolution or electing a new administration.
All photos courtesy of the author.