Hugo Chavez


When Hugo Chavez’s embalmed body is laid in a glass casket sometime next week, he will join at least eight other world leaders whose remains are on display for all eternity … or at least for as long as their keepers can preserve them.

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Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced Thursday that Chavez’s body would be on permanent display at the Museum of the Revolution so that “his people will always have them.” While that idea may sound grotesque, it’s also not particularly novel.

The Russians, arguably the ones who perfected the practice, have put both Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin on long-term display. Lenin’s body has been embalmed in a large tomb near the Kremlin since shortly after his death in 1924, preserved by a steady 61 degree temperature and a strict regimen of mild bleachings and soaks in glycerol and potassium acetate.

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Lenin’s body in 1991, the first time it was photographed in 30 years. (AFP/Getty Images)

According to Time, Stalin’s embalmed body also laid near Lenin’s for about 10 years, but was hastily reburied under cover of darkness when the government tried to squash his cult of personality in the early ’60s.

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Stalin laying in state in Moscow in 1953. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Russians seem to have inspired the North Koreans to similar displays. In 1994, a Russian team helped preserve the body of Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founding president, the New York Times reports.

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Kim Il-Sung lies in state in 1994. (AFP/Getty Images)

When Kim Jong Il died in late 2011, Russian scientists again went to Pyongyang to assist in the embalming; the late leader lies in a glass sarcophagus with filtered lights to keep his face looking rosy.

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An image of Kim Jong-Il in the memorial palace, taken from Korean TV in 2011. (AP)

But Kim Jong Il and his father were by no means the first Asian leaders to get the Chavez treatment. The Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, who died in 1969, is displayed in a mausoleum in Hanoi modeled after Lenin’s. Since “Uncle Ho” died in the midst of the Vietnam War, his embalmers had to work in a cave in the North Vietnamese jungle, the New York Times reports.

One of the scientists who worked on him told the Times: “Not every expert is allowed to restore such treasured historical objects, like a Raphael or a Rembrandt. Those who do it, we tremble. I feel a great responsibility in my hands.” This video shows the changing of the guard outside Ho Chi Minh’s tomb.

Socialist leader Mao Zedong has lain in state in a mausoleum on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square since May 1977. According to Time, Soviet-Chinese tensions forced Mao’s embalmers to ask the Vietnamese, not the Russians, for advice — a plan that misfired slightly when the Vietnamese could not explain how to build an air-tight coffin.

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A 1976 photo from China’s official news service shows party and state leaders standing vigil by Mao Zedong. (Xinhua/AFP/Getty Images)

The exiled Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who died in 1989, has lain embalmed in a public mausoleum in the northwest Philippines since the government allowed his body back into the country in 1993. His widow, Imelda Marcos, has battled the government for permission to bury him in the country’s presidential cemetery, the New York Times reports. She posted for photos kissing the crypt in 2010.
 

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Chavez will be only the second Latin American leader to be preserved for all eternity. Embalmers emptied water from the cells of Eva Peron, the wife of Argentinian president Juan Peron, and replaced them with wax — an unusual technique that basically “turned her into a candle,” Egyptologist Bob Brier told the Post’s Monica Hesse in 2012. She’s now also missing a finger — when the junta overthrew Peron’s husband and took over their house, they cut one off to see if the body was fake.

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Chavez’s body will, presumably, get better protection than that. AFP reports that Marcos’s embalmer has already offered up his services and is urging the Venezuelans to start the process before it gets “more difficult.”
 
“I will process anyone, anywhere,” he said, helpfully.

 

By Caitlin Dewey on March 8, 2013 (Washington Post)

CARACAS, Venezuela — While dignitaries from around the world attended the funeral of Hugo Chávez on Friday, Angélica Rodríguez stood in a line that stretched close to a mile in hopes of getting a glimpse of him lying in state. But her older brother, Gustavo, was much farther away, geographically and politically, having moved to Panama over a year ago because he believed there was no future in a Venezuela run by Mr. Chávez.

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“He said we’re glorifying a man who does not deserve it,” said Ms. Rodríguez, 23, a university student who had been standing in line for 16 hours and had many hours to go.

Mr. Chávez’s death prompted a massive outpouring of grief from his supporters as thousands waited outside the funeral for a chance to enter later to see his glass-covered coffin. But many other Venezuelans stayed home and expressed hope that his passing would lead to change.

“He was a man who awoke passions, for good or bad,” said Claudia Astor, 41, who watched a television broadcast of the funeral and recounted her long-standing misgivings of Mr. Chávez. At her side was her mother, Norma Astor, 73, an ardent supporter of Mr. Chávez from the day in 1992 when he first appeared on television screens as the leader of a failed coup.

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The proceedings also put on display the political alliances that Mr. Chávez assembled during 14 years as president, often with an eye toward confronting the United States, who he regularly pilloried as an imperialist force of evil.

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President Raúl Castro of Cuba sat in the front row, next to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who at one point kissed Mr. Chávez’s flag-draped coffin. Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, shed some tears.

Despite years of rough relationships with the United States, including the expulsion from Caracas on Tuesday of two American military attaches who were accused of seeking to destabilize the country, there were signs that both sides were trying to put on a moderate face, at least for a day.

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The United States sent Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Democrat of New York, and William D. Delahunt, a former Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, who had positive contacts with Venezuelan officials in the past.

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And Nicolás Maduro, who was Mr. Chávez’s vice president until he was sworn in as president on Friday night, had kind words for the American delegation in his eulogy, emphasizing that they were sent by President Obama.

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“Here there are some representatives that we greet and value,” Mr. Maduro said, naming the two American politicians and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who was also present, although not part of the official delegation.

In his eulogy, Mr. Maduro, Mr. Chávez’s handpicked political heir, praised his mentor for starting Venezuela down the path of socialism, although he stressed that there was still a long way to go.

“You can go in peace, commander,” Mr. Maduro said. “Mission accomplished. The battle continues.”

And while he spoke of love and forgiveness, he also touched on some of Mr. Chávez’s familiar themes, harping on enemies and the dark shadow of betrayal.

“There has not been a leader in the history of our country more vilified, more insulted and more vilely attacked than our commander president,” he said.

Mr. Maduro was sworn in as interim president in a special session of the National Assembly several hours after the funeral and then immediately put on the presidential sash. The Supreme Court had ratified the transition in a ruling earlier in the day.

But most opposition lawmakers boycotted the session, arguing that the Constitution was being violated. Henrique Capriles, who ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Chávez in October, called the swearing in spurious at a news conference. He said that under the Constitution Mr. Maduro should take charge of the duties of president while retaining the title of vice president. But the Constitution clearly bars a vice president from running for president, meaning that under Mr. Capriles’s interpretation, Mr. Maduro would have to resign from the government in order to run.

“Nicolás, no one elected you president,” a combative Mr. Capriles said. “The people didn’t vote for you, boy.”

The wrangling presaged the bitter political contest that is to come as the country heads to a special election to replace Mr. Chávez. Mr. Maduro, 50, is expected to be the candidate of the government party, while a person in the opposition coalition said that there was a consensus to name Mr. Capriles, 42, as its candidate.

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Election authorities have yet to set a date for the vote.

In announcing Mr. Chávez’s death on Tuesday, a distraught Mr. Maduro described the country as a family. But on Friday it seemed like a family torn apart.

“I hate the anti-Chavistas with all my heart,” said Nancy Cadena, 45, who sells plantains and bananas in a street market in Petare, a poor neighborhood. “They don’t want the poor people to catch up.”

A few miles away in a middle-class neighborhood, Luisa Mercedes Pulido, 69, said that while she and her sister Elenora, 64, were on opposite sides of the national divide, they got along fine as long as they avoided politics.

“She has her point of view that she isn’t going to change, and I have mine that I’m not going to change,” she said. “But it seems incredible to me that intelligent, thoughtful people, at this stage, continue to think as they do when what we have received from Mr. Chávez is misery, corruption, murders and a total reduction in our quality of life and so much crime. I don’t understand how they cannot see that.”

 

Reporting (Text) was contributed by Simon Romero, María Eugenia Díaz, Jonathan Gilbert and Paula Ramón. (NYT, March 8, 2013)

Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s president until his death yesterday, loved to read. So much so that he attributed his turn to socialism, in 2005, to the French classic Les Misérables. In a New Yorker obituary, Jon Lee Anderson, who met him several times, recalls enquiring about his political evolution. “I asked him why, so late in the day, he had decided to adopt socialism,” Anderson writes. “He acknowledged that he had come to it late, long after most of the world had abandoned it, but said that it had clicked for him after he had read Victor Hugo’s epic novel Les Misérables. That, and listening to Fidel [Castro].”

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In fact, the “Comandante,” as his followers called him, spent a great deal of time quoting and analyzing Hugo’s social novel, the story of the wretched of France—Cosette, the orphan, Fantine, the prostitute, Jean Valjean, the well-intended convict—at the beginning of the 19th century. Back then, Chávez would argue, France was very similar to today’s Venezuela—and even to Latin America as a whole. That’s what he explained during a Parisian press conference, in 2007. “You want to meet Jean Valjean?” he asked the crowd of reporters. “Go to Latin America.  There are many Jean Valjeans in Latin America. Many: I know some. You want to know Fantine? There are many Fantines in Latin America—and in Africa too. You want to know little Cosette and all the others… you want to know Marius? They’re all down there in Latin America.”

Praising Hugo’s novel was a way for Chávez to show his social conscience, not only in front of the French but also before the Venezuelan masses he claimed to educate. He often evoked the book to defend his policies, reminding the public that his government was devoted to the lower classes, “those who spent much of their life in total misery, like Victor Hugo would say,” as he put it in a 2005 speech.

Yet Chávez’s literary legacy, like the rest of his governing style, did not come without criticism. Under his rule, book clubs became a political statement. The man who oncehanded Barack Obama a copy of The Open Veins of Latin America, a book by Eduardo Galeano that details how Latin countries were exploited by Europe and later the United States, offered very specific book endorsements. His “Revolutionary Reading Plan,” a program that mainly involved giant book giveaways and a list of government-recommended texts, was denounced as a form of indoctrination by the country’s opposition.

Among the Chavista-approved books that quickly filled Venezuela’s libraries were, unsurprisingly, Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and, less predictably, Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixotea novel that he believed could “feed us with a fighting spirit and the will to fix the world” (along with Les Misérables, of course). Those works were chosen to “strengthen 21st-century socialism.” The government agencies in charge argued that they were not an arm of the thought police. “What we’re doing is putting books within everybody’s reach, including children’s literature with absolutely no political content,” saidEdgar Roa, who was in charge of the giveaways. “Or Les Misérables by Victor Hugo which can be interpreted in many different ways depending on your political colors,” he added.

But the “book squadrons” that patrolled public areas encouraging Venezuelans to read seemed to hinder the educational message behind said book plan, and looked a bit like something out of George Orwell’s 1984 (a novel that did not make it onto Chávez’s list). As the BBC reported, “Each squadron wears a different colour to identify their type of book. For example, the red team promotes autobiographies while the black team discusses books on ‘militant resistance.’ ”

As far as Hugo’s work is concerned, Chávez may have missed the fact that the French author wrote Les Misérables in part during his political exile, when he was protesting against Napoleon III’s autocratic leadership. Some of his other works, like the book of satirical poems Les Châtiments, are highly critical of authoritarian governments. As far I can tell, Chávez never read those poems.

By , Wednesday, March 6, 2013

President Hugo Chávez, long a fiery foe of Washington, won re-election on Sunday, facing down cancer and the strongest electoral challenge of his nearly 14 years in office and gaining a new mandate to deepen his socialist revolution.

Though his margin of victory was much narrower than in past elections, he still won handily. With 90 percent of the votes tallied, Mr. Chávez received 54 percent, to 45 percent for his opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski, the national election council said. Fireworks erupted in Caracas after the news, and Chávez supporters celebrated in the streets.

Shortly before 11:30 p.m. local time, Mr. Chávez stepped out onto the balcony of the presidential palace in Caracas and waved to a sea of jubilant supporters. “My words of recognition go out from here to all who voted against us, a recognition for their democratic temperament,” he said. A former soldier, he called the election a “perfect battle.”

Still, after a spirited campaign, the polarizing Mr. Chávez finds himself governing a changed country. He is an ailing and politically weakened winner facing an emboldened opposition that grew stronger and more confident as the voting neared, and held out hope that an upset victory was within reach.

Mr. Chávez has said that he would move forward even more aggressively to create his version of socialism in Venezuela in a new six-year term, although his pledges were short on specifics.

His health, though, remains a question mark. He has undergone several rounds of treatment for cancer in the last 15 months, but has refused to make public essential details of his illness. If he overcomes the disease and serves out his new term to its end in 2019, he will have been in power for two full decades.

Toward the end of the campaign, facing pressure from Mr. Capriles, he pledged to make his government more efficient and to pay more attention to the quality of government programs like education. He even made appeals for the middle class and the opposition to join in his revolution.

But Mr. Chávez spent much of the year insulting and trying to provoke Mr. Capriles and his followers. And on Sunday night, he had to face the fact that the people he taunted as squalid good-for-nothings, little Yankees and fascists, turned out to be nearly half the electorate.

As the opposition’s momentum grew, Mr. Chávez’s insults seemed to lose their sting. By the end of the campaign, young people in Caracas were wearing colorful T-shirts that said “majunche” or good-for-nothing, Mr. Chávez’s favorite taunt.

Mr. Capriles was subdued on Sunday night, congratulating Mr. Chávez and saying he hoped the president would see the result as “the expression today of a country with two visions, and to be president means working to solve the problems of all Venezuelans.”

He appeared poised to carry on his fight in the elections for state governors in December. “You should all feel proud, do not feel defeated,” he told supporters.

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a research institute in Washington, called the presidential election “a fundamental turning point.” He said Mr. Chávez was “going to have to deal with a very different society than he dealt with in his last term, a society that’s awakened and more organized and more confident.”

Even so, the opposition is a fragile coalition with a history of destructive infighting, especially after an election defeat. Mr. Capriles will have to keep this fractious amalgam of parties from the left, right and center together in order to take advantage of the new ground they have gained.

“The opposition has more power, it feels more support,” said Elsi Fernandes, a schoolteacher, who voted for Mr. Capriles on Sunday morning in Catia, a poor neighborhood in Caracas. “The difference is that we’re not going to stay with our arms crossed.”

The turnout was more than 80 percent, the highest in decades, the election council said. People stood in line for hours, although the voting appeared in most cases to run smoothly.

By , October 7, 2012

Reporting was contributed by María Eugenia Díaz, Jonathan Gilbert, Girish Gupta and Andrew Rosati from Caracas, and María Iguarán from Cumaná, Sucre State (Venezuela)