He had a choice between his life or his country, and he chose his country, Aldana said. He died with his boots on, like a hero dies.
But his combativeness also put him at odds with civil liberty groups. During his presidency, Chávez was blasted for muzzling the press, stacking the courts, expropriating foreign companies and jailing opponents.
That matters little in Sabaneta. The Chávez name looms large in this part of the country. His father, Hugo de los Reyes Chávez, was the schoolmaster before becoming the Barinas-state education secretary and then governor. When he stepped down, Chávezs older brother, Adán, won the office in 2008, and was recently reelected. Chávezs younger brother, Aníbal, has been the mayor of Sabaneta for the last eight years.
The Chávez clan is something of political royalty in the region, said Tarquino Gonzalez, a reporter with the local La Prensa newspaper. Despite the perception of nepotism, his father and brothers have each won elections, often by landslides, Gonzalez said.
Theres always been a sense that their real power came from their connection with the presidency, he said. But now well see if its [Chávez brothers] who have the peoples backing or if it was just the president.
Being a presidential hometown has its advantages. When Chávez was growing up, Sabaneta had dirt roads, no electricity and cattle walked the streets, locals said. Now it has paved roads, a new health clinic, theater and bridges.
But theres also evidence of broken promises and the failures of Chávezs Socialist Revolution of the 21st Century. A once productive cattle ranch that was confiscated early in his administration remains fallow. A sugar mill, which has been inaugurated six times, isnt fully functioning. Highways and rail lines that were supposed to cut through the region never materialized.
Even so, the opposition has never found a foothold in Sabaneta. Rafael Davila, the director of public services in town, said that of the 25,765 registered voters, 18,500 of them are card carrying members of Chávezs PSUV party. An additional 2,000 are undeclared supporters.
During Octobers presidential race, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles skipped the town, fearing a visit would be provocative.
On Thursday, as residents congregated around the central square, many swapped rumors that Chávez might be buried in his hometown. Hours later, the government announced that he would be embalmed like Russias Vladimir Lenin and Chinas Mao Zedong and put on display for the foreseeable future at a soon-to-be-built mausoleum at the Museum of the Revolution.
But Torres, his former girlfriend, said Chávez always said he wanted to be buried on the plains of Sabaneta. She acknowledged, however, that he had outgrown his hometown.
He doesnt belong to us anymore, she said. He belongs to the world.