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This April 14, 2002 file photo shows Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez holding a crucifix as he addresses the nation from the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas. / JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
Venezuela's acting president suggested that Hugo Chavez's recent death influenced the decision to choose a pontiff from Latin America.
"The debate was between an African and a South American pope," Nicolas Maduro said, after taking part in a group prayer at a book fair in Caracas.
"I don't know, but we know that our commander ascended to those heights and he's face-to-face with Christ," said Maduro. "He had an influence for the choosing of a South American pope. Some new hand came in and Christ declared: 'Well, South America's time has come'."
Latin America is home to some 40 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
While Venezuelan politicians spoke of divine intervention, some lawmakers in Argentina were not about to let the election of an Argentinean to head the Catholic Church -- the first South American pope in history -- to sway them from honoring Chavez.
As the Argentinean newspaper Clarin reports (in Spanish), a dispute broke out in the Chamber of Deputies over whether to end a ceremony for the deceased Venezuelan president in order to mark the ascension of Buenos Aires' Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy.
The left-leaning Front for Victory party -- which leads the chamber -- opted to continue, while right-leaning opposition members pushed for a recess in order to hear Pope Francis' first remarks.
Chavez supporters won out, and continued their homage. As Clarin noted, by that time most of the opposition seats were empty.