Chavez Faithful Look For A Way To Keep His Memory Alive

Ten days after his death, Hugo Chavez's remains are being moved to a museum after being on display at a military academy. The government has been debating what to do with the body long term. His political heirs simply say they want to keep his memory and image alive.

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Today, the body of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is scheduled to be moved to a museum. The body has already been on display for 10 days since his death. The government is debating what to do with the body next, especially since many Venezuelans do not want to say good-bye.

NPR's Juan Forero reports.

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: Until today, you could see Chavez at the open-air salon at the country's top military academy here in the capital.

When I went this week, shortly past midnight, the lines were long with some people waiting six hours. The only way to overcome the tedium was to watch the hagiographic videos on Chavez, playing from giant Jumbotrons.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC AND A CROWD)

FORERO: But the people who waited are ferociously loyal to El Comandante, the man who dominated this country for 14 years. So they waited to catch a glimpse of Chavez, even if only for a couple of seconds.

He wore a green uniform, red beret snuggly fit over his head. His face was puffy, heavy makeup erasing any creases. Some who viewed him couldn't stop crying.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEEPING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: Miguel Gallardo, who came here from another city, stood in line nine hours so he could see Chavez twice.

MIGUEL GALLARDO: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: I came to see my commander because I didn't think he was dead, said Gallardo. But now, I saw him and have to resign myself to his death. But he added that Chavez would not be forgotten.

It's that kind of allegiance that prompted Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro, to initially announce plans to have him preserved and put on permanent exhibit. Maduro said, like Lenin and Mao and Ho Chi Minh, that idea may not be workable now, he says.

What is happening is a procession to take Chavez's body to the Museum of the Revolution.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

FORERO: It's located in a poor neighborhood where support for Chavez had been very strong since 1992. That's when he was an army lieutenant colonel and led a failed overthrow of the government.

I'm here in the 23rd of January, that's the name of this neighborhood, and this is the heart of Chavismo. Here, 20 years ago, Chavez launched a coup that made him a household name.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

FORERO: Indeed, no one has forgotten that here, among the Soviet-style apartment blocks and tiny cinderblock homes. Or they say the things that Chavez did as president - the social programs, the doctors deployed here.

Near the museum, Maria Ninfa Uzcategui explained why she loved Chavez.

MARIA NINFA UZCATEGUI: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: He left us memories, she says, many of them. And he was like a brother, a father, a son, a grandfather.

Now Uzcategui and the others here say they're happy to have Chavez back.

Arelis Castillo, who's 45, gushed about how she wanted to see him.

ARELIS CASTILLO: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: Every day, she says, everyday I'll visit and pray for him and ask that he give us strength to go on.

The government is now considering a plan to put Chavez's body in The Pantheon, right next to his guiding light - that's Simon Bolivar, the 19th century independence hero.

Juan Forero, NPR News.

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