|On Friday, March 15 the body of President Chávez was tranferred from the Military Academy at Fuerte Tiuna in Caracas to the February 4F Military Museum located in the 23 de Enero (23rd of January) barrio atop a mountain overlooking Caracas. The 23rd of January is one of the great barrios in Caracas with the largest collective of community councils having 'power from below' in the whole of Venezuela. These people lived in abject poverty before President Chávez gained control of the national petroleum industry and began to invest it in social programs for education, health care, jobs, housing and other missions.
The 4F Military Museum in the mountain top barrio of 23 de Enero
MBR-200: In 1982, Leutenant Colonel Chávez secretly founded the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario) or the MBR-200. Ten years later, on February 4, 1992 launched a civil-military rebellion against the US-backed Carlos Andres Perez regime in 1992. The rebellion was defeated and Chávez was imprisoned. It was his enormous popularity and support among the majority of Venezuelans that prevented his execution and before his imprisonment in a brief opportunity to speak to the people on national television, Chávez uttered two words which became the hope of the people, "Por ahora" (For now).
Last Friday, the procession from the Military Academy at Fuerte Tiuna first passed through Los Proceres in Caracas, known for its 3 mile long park filled with stunning beauty, sculpures & fountains, palms, a natural lake and two15 meter high walls with the names of Venezuela's independence heroes. The procession left the nearby Military Academy, passed through throngs of Chavistas in Los Próceres, mounted the autopista and then passed through Caracas streets to the 4F Military Museum. The military, civilian and religious ceremonies, the passing of millions of people by his coffin and the complex procession to the Military Academy was extremely well organized and executed without incident.
A formal ceremony was conducted before his coffin was placed in the hearse at the Military Academy and another at the 4F Military Museum which will be his temporary resting place. Chávez was honored with the breathtaking march of the people and national and international leaders in these ceremonies. The Museum will be his interim resting place and it's almost certain that the National Assembly will at some point in time amend the constitution to allow his body to be placed next to the great Liberator, Simon Bolivar at the National Pantheon. The people are demanding this against the fierce objections of the opposition and Washington for reasons that should be obvious.
This photo essay shows the response of at least a million people who honored their president and international visitors on March 15, filling the area around Fuerte Tiuna, flanking the procession at Los Proceres and following the procession on foot for 15 kilometers (9 miles) to the museum. The photos below begin with the Military Academy at Fuerte Tiuna where millions of men, women and children came to pay tribute, passing by President Chávez' coffin, many performing the sign of the cross, others saluting him and some thanking him and talking to him in words and tears.
Viewing and Ceremonies at Fuerte Tiuna
María Gabriela, one of Chávez' two daughters who have constantly been at his side during his public appearances, speaks to mourners at the Military Academy. A priest offers prayers and his military mentor for years speaks of his great leadership and the path for the future of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, former guerilla and now president of Uruguay José Mujica and Bolivian President Evo Morales with Nicolas Maduro in the background.
A few of the millions of mourners who visited Chávez at the Military Academy in Fuerte Tiuna.
Leaving the Fuerte Tiuna Military Academy
A presidential guard weeps as vehicles wait for the president. The Presidential Guard carry Chávez from the Military Academy to a waiting hearse for transport to the 4F Military Museum in 23rd of January followed by the procession through Los Proceres. The throngs gather to begin the march behind the cortege. Nicolas Maduro and Evo Morales walk with the people.
Leaving Los Proceres the procession mounts the autopista for the journey to the 23rd of January. The lead military vehicle is driven by interim President Nicolas Maduro. His leading the procession as a driver is significant.
The People march on foot and youth on motorcycles follow the procession on the autopista, contained behind the funeral cars by 4 government vehicles.
All along the way, people wait, mourn and pay homage to their hero as the procession passes by.
Men bear tattoos, showing their commitment to President Chávez and the revolution. Many shaved their heads when Chávez lost his hair from chemotherapy. Thousands threw flower petals covering the vehicles as the flower-laden vehicle and hearse passed. With Evo Morales at his side Maduro drives* as revolutionary leaders greet the people along the way. Diosdado Cabello, President of the National Assembly, close ally of Maduro and one of the engines of the revolution greeted people all day with fist on heart.
People waved banners, wrote messages to President Chávez on impromptu posters and a woman sleeps along the road, wrapped in the Venezuelan flag.
Arriving at 4F Military Museum in 23rd of January
The vehicle bearing President Chávez' body arrives at the F4 Military Museum in 23rd of January, honored by the military amidst people who traveled up to twelve hours by buses and cars from across the country to say goodbye to the man who has liberated them from the grip of yankee imperialism.
People file into 4F ... a soldier stands guard at the entrance alongside photos of Hugo Chávez, former paratrooper, Leutenant Colonel, President and photos of his family. He is honored with an engraved plaque on the floor fronted by flowers.
President Chávez interim resting place at the 4F Military Museum where he will lay-in-state and people can visit until he is placed alongside Bolivar at the National Pantheon. National and international dignitaries attended this ceremony. The third photo depicts Nicolas Maduro, Evo Morales and Diosdado Cabello sitting on the front row.
In the special ceremony depicted below, interim President Nicolas Maduro places Bolivar's Sword on the coffin of Liberator Hugo Chávez. Maduro and the most powerful members of the Venezuelan government join hands on the sword and then applaud.
Family and close friends gather 'round to say goodbye to President Chávez at 4F. President Cristina Fernandez prays at Chávez' coffin. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad weeps on the coffin and later comforts President Chávez' mother. The last photo shows top Venezuelan military commanders once again declaring their solidarity with President Chávez, Nicolas Maduro, the National Assembly and the Venezuelan people.
Having a hard time saying goodbye, the people wait outside
at night in vigil until the very end of the closing ceremonies.
* Noted above: When Nicolas Maduro led the procession it was symbolic. He began his political career as a bus driver. When Chávez was arrested in 1992 Maduro organized workers to support Chávez and the revolution. He's been a friend and protege of Chávez and an important leader in the revolution for 20 years, serving over 6 years as Venezuela's Foreign Minister. Before the president made his final trip to Havana, he asked the people to vote for Maduro to be their next president in the next election should he (Chávez) be incapacitated by his illness. Maduro has taken the reins of the revolution with impressive strength and intelligence, navigating the dark waters of Chávez illness sharing with the people his profound national grief over his death. The people have already embraced and honored Maduro and will give him a Chavista landslide victory over Capriles Radonski on April 14. The latest polls reported by Interlaces yesterday gave him an 18 point lead over Caprles Radonski. We are hoping that he will exceed the goal Chávez has had in the last two elections of receiving 10 million votes.
Chávez Vive! La Lucha Sigue!