Hugo Chavez's funeral attracts world leaders
Cuban President Raul Castro salutes as he stands next to the coffin containing the body of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, during his wake at a military academy in Caracas, Thursday, March 7, 2013. / AP Photo/Miraflores Press Office
Last Updated 1:53 p.m. ET
CARACAS, Venezuela World leaders, athletes and left-wing celebrities gathered at a music-filled state funeral honoring Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday, with multitudes waiting outside, the start of a day that will end with the swearing in of his hand-picked successor as interim president.
The funeral at a military academy where Chavez has been lying in state began with Venezuela's national youth orchestra singing the national anthem, led by famed conductor Gustavo Dudamel. A government-allied congressman later belted out cowboy songs from Chavez's native Barinas state.
The streets outside took on a carnival atmosphere, with military bands launching into marches and an expanse of supporters wearing the red of Chavez's socialist party. Street vendors sold paper replicas of the presidential sash, which many people in the line slipped over their shoulder.
Throngs watched the ceremony on huge monitors under the blazing sun, with some complaining of a lack of bottled water and bathroom facilities. A line to see Chavez's body stretched 1.5 miles, was halted as the funeral got under way.
Preserved for Posterity
In the funeral hall, more than 30 political leaders including Cuba's Raul Castro and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stood at attention before Chavez's flag-draped coffin. Many of them were welcomed by Nicolas Maduro, the vice president who will later be sworn in as interim president. The glass-topped coffin, which has been open since Wednesday, was shut for the funeral.
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, and former Rep. William Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts, represented the United States, which Chavez often railed against even as he sold the country billions of dollars in oil each year. Television cameras captured Hollywood star Sean Penn in attendance, while the Rev. Jesse Jackson preached rapprochement between the U.S. and Venezuela.
"We pray God today that you will heal the breach between the U.S. and Venezuela," Jackson said.
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Ahmadinejad won one of the biggest rounds of applause received by leaders entering the funeral. In fact, the guest list reflected Chavez's foreign policy of befriending countries such as Iran and Syria in conflict with the U.S. and Europe. Representatives from both north and south Koreas also attended.
"It is a great pain for us because we have lost a friend," Ahmadinejad said upon his arrival at the airport the night before. "I feel like I have lost myself, but I am sure that he still lives. Chavez will never die. His spirit and soul live on in each of our hearts."
With much of the world watching, Maduro delivered a fiery speech repeating some of the aggressive rhetoric he had used just hours before announcing Chavez's death Tuesday.
"Here you are commander with your men, standing, all your men and women, loyal as we swore before you, loyal until beyond death," Maduro shouted, his voice breaking with emotion. "We have smashed the curse of betrayal of the country and we will smash the curse of defeat and regression."
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