Caracas: Throngs of Venezuelans crowded the streets of Caracas on Wednesday, many clad in red, waving flags and weeping in a final goodbye to late president Hugo Chavez as he was taken through the capital.
Some watched from apartment windows, others climbed fences to get a better view and many held up smartphones to take pictures of the flag-draped coffin adorned with flowers. Many shouted “I love you Chavez!”
“Viva my comandante! We love you Chavez,” exclaimed Hector Carrasquel, 40, who came from Tejeria, west of Caracas, for the procession.
“I’m here to say my final goodbye to my president. There will never be another Chavez. He is the greatest man that this fatherland gave us,” said Jose Gregorio Conde, 34, an education worker.
“I couldn’t sleep all night thinking about what happened,” he said outside the Caracas military hospital where Chavez lost his battle to cancer on Tuesday at the age of 58.
A guard in red uniform led the procession, holding a sword, as Vice President Nicolas Maduro and other officials marched toward the military academy where Chavez will lie in state until Friday.
“What can I say, I am very sad,” said Isabel Febres, who cried as she stared at a photo of Chavez with his presidential sash.
Many had spent the night outside the hospital while others arrived early under the Caribbean sun. Some read the official daily Ciudad Caracas, whose headline read “Onward to victory, always, Comandante Chavez!”
“I love him,” said Iris Dicuro, 62, who came from the northeastern city of Puerto La Cruz and wore a shirt with the words “Forward Comandante.” “I want to bid farewell because he was a good man who gave everything to the poor.”
“He did well for me. I am healthy thanks to him, for the Cuban doctors that he brought here,” she said, referring to one of the many oil-funded social programs he brought to impoverished neighborhoods.
Amid the grief, many were sure that Chavez’s 14-year legacy would continue and that they would vote for Maduro, his chosen successor, in elections expected to take place within 30 days.
“God willing, we will continue the last wishes of my president and we will vote for Maduro. We can’t allow everything to be lost. What he did, giving us education, new homes, food, he did so much,” said Mairis Briceno, 21, wearing a red shirt with an image of Chavez hugging and elderly woman and the words “love with love pays off.”
Aldemar Castro, a 29-year-old bricklayer, said that if Chavez hand-picked Maduro, “it is because he knows that he can do something good for Venezuela.”