The tour of the military museum that holds Hugo Chavez’s remains begins like any other. A guide holding a small red placard informs groups of 20 or so visitors that photos can be snapped but taking video is prohibited.
And please stick together. First stop,a tent where soldiers hand each child a backpack with the now iconic image of Chavez’s eyes and the words “Chavez,I promise.”
So begins one campaign slogan for Nicolas Maduro,the acting president and Chavez’s chosen successor. The second part of the slogan: “I’ll vote for Maduro.”
Sunday’s election to replace Chavez,which Maduro is favored to win,is about much more than defeating opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
For Chavez’s socialist heirs,it’s about immortalizing the revolution that endeared him to Venezuela’s poor and making his teachings inextricable from being Venezuelan.
On the eve of the election,Chavez’s recorded voice rang out in the military museum,singing the national anthem during a ceremony to celebrate the anniversary of the creation of a militia of 125,000 citizens to bolster the ranks of the 135,000-member armed forces.
A militiaman stood firm before Maduro. Chavez lives, he barked. The fight continues,” Maduro replied,automatically. One by one,militia members repeated the ritual.
Chavez’s granite coffin lies in the main chamber of an old pink military barracks that overlooks Caracas. Four soldiers in red ceremonial uniforms stand at attention around his remains,swords pointed to the floor.
It was in this building that the former paratroop commander led a failed 1992 coup six years before he was elected president.
Before entering the chamber,the tour guide points to flames in a stone torch _ symbolizing Chavez’s immortality. “It never goes out,” she says. Inside the chamber,the group slowly circles the coffin. A few women cry softly.
Across from the tomb hang two enormous portraits of Chavez,who died March 5 after a long battle with cancer.
One is familiar to all Venezuelans: The young Chavez when he declared on national television after being captured in 1992 that his coup had failed for now.” The other is more recent. Forever, one woman says as she stares up at it.
The visitors then stop at a chapel. Some pray to Chavez himself,asking him to help Maduro become a great leader. The line of people waiting to get into the museum Saturday numbered in the dozens,a far cry from the millions who turned out for his funeral.
As the wave of mourning over Chavez’s death subsides,the problems he bequeathed Venezuela are festering. They include food and power outages,rampant kidnappings and killings. Maduro is favored to win Sunday,but polls suggest his lead over Capriles has narrowed considerably.
In other rooms of the museum,photos celebrate Chavez’s childhood,military career and 14 years in power. Daddy look,look!’ a 5-year-old boy says,jumping up and down as he points to his favorite photos.
Yes,sweetie. Chavez is in heaven,” replies his father,taxi driver Joaquin Nieto. Chavez is everywhere.”
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