Hugo Chavez died of massive heart attack: top general

In photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Hugo Chavez' mother, Elena Frias, third from left, and brothers stand on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 next to flag-draped coffin containing body of Venezuela's late president, on display during his wake at military academy where his body will lie in state until his funeral Friday. AP

CARACAS, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez died of a massive heart attack after great suffering and inaudibly mouthed his desire to live, the head of Venezuela's presidential guard said late Wednesday.

"He couldn't speak but he said it with his lips ... 'I don't want to die. Please don't let me die,' because he loved his country, he sacrificed himself for his country," Gen. Jose Ornella told The Associated Press.

The general said he spent the last two years with Chavez, including his final moments, as Venezuela's president of 14 years battled an unspecified cancer in the pelvic region.

Ornella spoke to the AP outside the military academy where Chavez's body lay in state. He said Chavez's cancer was very advanced when death came but gave no details.

Ornella did not respond when asked if the cancer had spread to Chavez's lungs.

The government announced on the eve of Chavez's death that he had suffered a severe new respiratory infection. It was the second such infection reported by officials after Chavez underwent his fourth cancer surgery in Cuba on Dec. 11.

Venezuelan authorities have not said what kind of cancer Chavez had or specified exactly where tumors were removed.

During the first lung infection, near the end of December, doctors implanted a tracheal tube to ease Chavez's breathing, but breathing insufficiency persisted and worsened, the government said.

Ornella said Chavez had "the best" doctors from all over the world but that they never discussed the president's condition in front of him.

The general said he didn't know precisely what kind of cancer afflicted Chavez, but added: "He suffered a lot."

He said Chavez knew when he spoke to Venezuelans on Dec. 8, three days before his final surgery in Cuba, that "there was very little hope he would make it out of that operation."

It was Chavez's fourth cancer surgery and previous interventions had been followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

Ornella echoed the concern of Vice President Nicolas Maduro that some sort of foul play was involved in Chavez's cancer.

"I think it will be 50 years before they declassify a document (that) I think (will show) the hand of the enemy is involved," he said.

The general didn't identify who he was talking about, but Maduro suggested possible U.S. involvement on Tuesday. The U.S. State Department called the allegation absurd.

Maduro, Chavez's self-anointed successor, said Chavez died Tuesday afternoon in a Caracas military hospital.

The government said Chavez, 58, had been there since returning from Cuba on Feb. 18.

Chavez was carried back Wednesday to the military academy where he started his army career, his flag-draped coffin lying in state in the echoing halls until Friday's funeral.

As a band played the hymn from his first battalion, a long ribbon of tearful mourners numbering in the hundreds of thousands bid farewell to the larger-than-life leader after a procession carried his casket through Caracas.

With the entire government, including Maduro, caught up in the seven-hour procession, there were few answers to the most pressing question facing the country -- the timing of a presidential election that must be called within a month.

Generations of Venezuelans, many dressed in the red of Chavez's socialist party, filled the capital's streets to remember the man who dominated their country for 14 years before succumbing to cancer Tuesday afternoon.

Chavez's coffin made its way through the crowds atop an open hearse on a five-mile journey that wound through the city's north and southeast, into many of the poorer neighborhoods where Chavez drew his political strength.

At the academy, Chavez's family and close advisers, as well as the presidents of Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay, attended a funeral Mass around the president's glass-topped casket. The public then began filing past to peer at their longtime president, many of them coming closer to him than they had ever been while he was alive. Some placed their hand over their heart, others saluting or raising a fist in solidarity. The viewing lasted far into the night.

Set against the outpouring of grief was near-total official silence on where Venezuela is heading next, including when the election will take place. Even the exact time and place of Chavez's funeral Friday has not been announced, nor has it been revealed where he will be laid to rest.

Opponents already have been stepping up criticism of the government's questionable moves after Chavez's death, including naming Maduro, the vice president, as interim president in apparent violation of the constitution, and the military's eagerness to choose political sides.

For a day, at least, Chavez's heartbroken supporters immersed themselves in emotion and sad farewells.

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