[RCG 09.03.12] 'If we wish to build upon Chávez's legacy we must recognise that he had us rediscover the true history of our land and the legacy of Simon Bolivar, He taught us love and forgiveness. He taught us to love our history…Here you are, unconquered, pure, transparent, unique, true and always alive. Comandante, they couldn't defeat you and they will never, ever defeat us.' Nicolás Maduro
Delegations from 54 countries, including 32 heads of state, attended the official funeral service of Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías on Friday 8 March at Caracas' military academy. Notably present were Latin American presidents Raul Castro (Cuba), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Rafael Correa (Ecuador) alongside heads of State from Chile, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatamala, Guyana, Haiti, Antigua and Barbuda, Honduras and Dominica. Highlighting Chávez's international impact, also in attendance were the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko and Greece's Syriza leader, Alexis Tsipras.
Meanwhile millions have filled the streets of Caracas during the last few days, chanting 'Chávez vive! La lucha sigue! (Chávez lives, the fight continues). Crowds accompanied a seven-hour procession of his coffin from the military hospital to Caracas' military academy where his open casket will be displayed. Over two million Venezuelans have thus far queued for hours to pay their respects to Chávez and millions more wait, prompting the viewing to be extended for another seven days. His body will then be embalmed and displayed permanently in a Museum of the Revolution in Caracas.
Emphasising the key role Chávez has played in forging Latin American unity, the Guard of Honour flanking his coffin was opened with the participation of heads of state and governments of countries leading the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of our America (ALBA) initiatives. A further symbol of the impact of the investment in sport and culture developed under Chávez's presidency, the National Anthem was lead by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Symphonic Orchestra whilst Venezuela's first Olympian Gold medalist for 44 years, fencer Ruben Limardo, who in August stated to Chávez 'Thanks to you, I've truly accomplished my dream ... now we continue increasing our efforts for more Olympic medals' also attended.
Despite US President Obama failing to offer condolences on the death of Chávez, Nicolás Maduro, who was sworn in as interim President after the ceremony, pointedly stated 'Let us forgive those who slandered you', and welcomed a low-level American delegation comprised of two democrat politicians Gregory Meeks and former Massachusetts Congressman William Delahunt who received a round of applause. Jesse Jackson, the American black activist and anti racist leader gave a sermon recognising the legacy Chávez leaves behind 'Hugo fed the hungry, He lifted the poor. He raised their hopes. He helped them realize their dreams' .
Nicolás Maduro gave an emotional and rousing speech sufficient to quash any doubts in his capacity to uphold the torch of the Bolivarian revolution. After placing the symbolic sword of liberation hero Simon Bolivar on Chávez's tri-colour flag draped coffin, Maduro upheld the 1999 Bolivarian constitution of Venezuela that was drafted by a constitutional assembly that had been created by popular referendum following the 1998 election of Chávez.
Maduro also pointed to the importance of programa patria, listing the five historic tasks set out by Chávez in his election programme for the development of Venezuela's process towards socialism in the next 6 years. Maduro confirmed his commitment to the aims of developing national independence, constructing Bolivarian socialism in the 21st century, transforming Venezuela into a political, social and economic regional strength, contributing to an anti-imperialist mulit-polar world and working to preserve life on Earth, saving the human race. Countering media myths that Chávez leaves behind an unstable, uncertain Venezuela, Maduro stressed the loyalty of his government to implementing these programmes.
'Here you are, commander with your men, standing, all your men and women, loyal as we swore before you, loyal until beyond death,' he shouted. 'We have smashed the curse of betrayal of the country and we will smash the curse of defeat and regression.' 'The poor and the hopeless and the oppressed are Chávez's testament. We, the grandsons of slaves, are living witnesses.' Far from being without direction Maduro proclaimed "He left a will signed and sealed by the people. If someone wants to know who Hugo Chávez, here in this Constitution.....his constitution supported and discussed by the people. All that are here today, this is our guide.'
With fresh elections due to be held on 14 April, Nicolás Maduro, armed with Programa Patria, and the Bolivarian constitution, is ready to defend and direct the Bolivarian Revolution, continuing the legacy of Hugo Chávez who will undoubtedly be remembered as Venezuela's 21st century liberator.