Caracas – Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets of this capital on Wednesday to bid farewell to President Hugo Chavez, tearfully paying tribute to a leader many consider irreplaceable and promising to continue his legacy.
Escorted by senior officials and the Presidential Guard of Honor, the car carrying Chavez’s flag-draped coffin rode along several Caracas streets as a red tide of mourners blew kisses and pledged their eternal love and loyalty to his leftist social movement.
“I’ll love you always, my father,” read one message on a makeshift sign held up by a supporter of the late president, who died Tuesday at age 58 after a 21-month battle with cancer.
“Ay, my Chavez ... my Chavez!” 69-year-old retiree Rosa Valera said disconsolately as she watched the casket pass by.
The expressions of grief contrasted with the llanero music, fanfare and battle songs that were heard non-stop on this day of mourning.
“I’ve come to pay tribute straight from the heart. I wouldn’t have been able to live out the rest of my life if I hadn’t accompanied the president on this last journey,” 45-year-old civil engineer Alfredo Bozo, who was accompanied by his wife, said sobbing.
The destination of the procession is the Military Academy, where the president will lie in state.
The armed forces fired a 21-gun salute to Chavez at 8:00 a.m. and announced that a cannon would be fired once an hour until the late president was buried on Friday.
Chavez’s death was announced Tuesday by a tearful Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who will serve as interim president.
Elections will be held within 30 days and Maduro is expected to be the candidate of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
The Venezuelan leader’s funeral is expected to be attended by several world leaders.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica and Bolivian President Evo Morales have already arrived in Caracas, while other leaders are expected to arrive on Thursday, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Wednesday.
Chavez had undergone four operations, as well as courses of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, since first being diagnosed with cancer in June 2011.
The leftist president spent more than two months in Cuba due to complications that followed his Dec. 11 cancer surgery in Havana. EFE