CARACAS, Venezuela – Hugo Chavez was lauded as a modern-day reincarnation of Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar at a fiery, foot-stomping state funeral Friday, hours before his handpicked successor was sworn in as acting president over the fierce objections of the opposition.
Nicolas Maduro took the oath of office in the National Assembly before ruling party legislators, dignitaries and a boisterous crowd of sympathizers that chanted “Chavez lives! Maduro carries on!” Holding up a tiny blue-bound booklet of Venezuela’s 1999 constitution in his right hand, Maduro pledged his “most absolute loyalty” to Chavez.
He broke into tears as he spoke of his mentor during a strident acceptance speech that included numerous attacks on the United States, capitalist elites and the international media.
Maduro also claimed the allegiance of Venezuela’s army, calling it “the armed forces of Chavez” as he pumped his fist in the air, a gesture that was reciprocated by the defense minister watching from the gallery. Critics have voiced increasing concern about the overt support the military has shown to the ruling party since Chavez’s death despite a ban on the army’s participation in politics.
The opposition largely boycotted the swearing-in, calling it unconstitutional. Henrique Capriles, Maduro’s likely opponent in presidential elections that must be called within 30 days, spoke condescendingly of the former bus driver and union leader, referring to him as “boy” and accusing him of “shamelessly” lying to the country.
Throngs watched the ceremony on huge monitors under the blazing sun. A line of people waiting to see Chavez’s body stretched 1 1/2 miles, but the viewing was halted as the funeral got under way.
In the funeral hall, more than 30 political leaders including Cuba’s Raul Castro, Spanish Crown Prince Felipe de Borbon, and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stood at attention before Chavez’s flag-draped casket, which was closed for the ceremony.