Moments later, Castro stood before the coffin, stared at it for several minutes and finally raised his right hand in a military salutes that lasted several seconds.
The foreign ministry statement said that among leaders expected for the funeral were:
Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner; Ecuador’s Rafael Correa; Chile’s Sebastían Piñera; Perú’s Ollanta Humala; Bolivia’s Evo Morales; Uruguay’s Mujica; Panama’s Ricardo Martinelli; Honduras’s Porfirio Lobo; Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos; El Salvador’s Mauricio Funes; Haiti’s Michael Martelly; Dominican Republic’s Danilo Medina; Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto; Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko.
The U.S. embassy in Caracas, meanwhile, disclosed that a low-level U.S. delegation will attend the funeral. An embassy statement said U.S. delegates include former Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y. and James Derham, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Caracas. Chávez’s followers demanded loudly Wednesday during the funeral procession that burial take place at the National Pantheon, final resting place of Venezuelan heroes, such as Simón Bolivar, hero of independence from Spain.
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello has said he would do everything possible to have Chávez’s remains buried at the National Pantheon.
But Maduro said Chávez’s remains will be moved to the Museum of the Revolution then lay in state in a mausoleum there for the foreseeable future, though he did not rule out moving Chávez later to the National Pantheon.
Chávez died Tuesday after battling cancer for almost two years. But cancer may not have been the ultimately cause of death. Gen. José Ornella, held of the presidential guard, told The Associated Press that in the end Chávez suffered a massive heart attack. AP quoted Ornella as saying that until the end, Chávez wanted to stay alive, but “a massive heart attack that struck him” was what caused his death. Other Venezuelan government officials, however, said they could not verify Ornella’s assertion.
Mourners in line said they were willing to wait hours for a chance to see the coffin not only because they agreed with Chávez’s ideology, but also because their lives and those of their children had definitely improved under the late Venezuelan leader.
“Before Chávez, the poor working class people of Venezuela like me did not really have a chance to succeed because everything seemed geared to help the rich people,” said Yomilde Ron, who waited in to see Chávez’s coffin. “Now, our children have a chance to go to the university, to get a computer, and many of those benefits are free under Chávez.”
Elsy Narvaez, who also was in line, said she didn’t mind waiting hours in the heat to see Chávez because she wanted to thank him for making poor people feel dignified and not “inferior” to the wealthy.
“Chávez was a leader who created a new history in Venezuela, one in which the poor are no longer trampled,” she said.
But an opposition leader voiced a different view about Chávez’s death and what it portends to the future of Venezuela.
In a statement, opposition leader María Corina Machado stressed the need for Venezuelan leaders to respect the constitution during the transition of the post-Chávez period.
“It is everybody’s task: citizens and leaders should assume the tireless commitment to do what is necessary to hold democratic elections,” she said in the statement.