Lifestyle & Belief

Crowds queue for glimpse of Chavez in casket (VIDEO)


Thousands of supporters of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez queue outside the Military Academy chapel to pay last respects to the leader on March 7, 2013 in Caracas.


Guillermo Legaria

CARACAS, Venezuela — Countless Venezuelans filed past the remains of President Hugo Chavez on Thursday, crying, making the sign of the cross and giving military salutes as an era ended and elections loomed in the oil-rich nation.

Chavez died Tuesday after a two-year struggle with cancer. His body lay in state in a half-open, glass-covered casket in the Caracas military academy, wearing olive green fatigues, a black tie and the iconic red beret that became a symbol of his 14-year socialist rule.

Thousands of people stood in line for hours through the night to get a glimpse of body.

But despite what one might expect to be an entirely somber mood, some of the atmosphere was actually upbeat, says GlobalPost's correspondent in Caracas, Girish Gupta. (Gupta filmed the above video on Thursday.)

People chanted: "Chavez vive, la lucha sigue!" — meaning Chavez lives, the struggle goes on.

"There's a real festive atmosphere here, with people looking forward, having been expectant of Chavez's death," Gupta said from the scene.

Indeed, having not heard or seen their once-omnipresent leader for about three months, many Venezuelans began preparing for a day the news of his demise would come.

Gupta describes a crush to get in, just like at Caracas' jam-packed music festivals. Outside, people sat on the grass. Huge screens showed live footage of Venezuelans filing past the coffin to pay last respects.

Inside, many saluted as they went past. One woman through her hands over the coffin screaming and in tears an had to be restrained by officers.

Guards lifted children up so they could see Chavez's body.

The country also 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.

They followed his coffin to the military academy, where will lie in state until a funeral Friday.

Later, Gupta reported that Venezuela's interim president, Nicolas Maduro, announced Chavez's body will be embalmed and put on display at a museum.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.