Chavez to be embalmed 'like Lenin' after Evita-style funeral
Sean Penn and Oliver Stone expected to join world leaders in Caracas for 'vast, clamorous' funeral
WORLD leaders are gathering in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas for the funeral of President Hugo Chavez, the "charismatic, but divisive" man who led the country for 14 years.
His death from cancer at the age of 58 devastated millions of mostly poor supporters who "loved him for putting the country's vast oil wealth at their service", but gives hope to those who saw him as a dictator, says Reuters.
Will the funeral be a modest affair? Chavez's funeral is "likely to be a vast, clamorous affair to rival Evita's", says The Guardian. Leaders from across Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe are expected in Caracas along with the celebrities who admired him - Hollywood actors Sean Penn and Danny Glover, and the director Oliver Stone.
Which world leaders are attending? More than 30 heads of state are expected to be in Caracas today including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Cuban President Raul Castro and Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko. President Ahmadinejad has praised Chavez as a "martyr" and a "wise and revolutionary leader".
Who's going from London? Although Chavez was welcomed to Buckingham Palace by the Queen in 2001, no member of the Royal Family is attending the funeral. Britain will be represented by the UK ambassador in Caracas. Two of Chavez's most high-profile supporters here – former London mayor Ken Livingstone and Respect MP George Galloway – both wrote fond eulogies to the president, but it is unclear whether either man will be at the funeral.
Will President Obama be going to Caracas? Absolutely not. For the past decade, relations between the US and Venezuela were characterised by "public spats and outlandish statements", says the BBC. The US hopes relations will improve following Chavez's death, but Obama – like many other Western leaders who had a fractious relationship with the devout socialist – won't be attending the funeral. The official US delegation is led by James Derham, the Charge d'Affaires at the US Embassy in Caracas, and includes Gregory Meeks, a controversial congressman from Queens, who knew Chavez personally.
Is Chavez being buried? No. After today's funeral, Chavez's body will be embalmed "like Ho Chi Minh, Lenin and Mao", placed in a glass cabinet and put on permanent display. His final resting place will be an army barracks in the January 23 slum, a "militantly-pro Chavez" district set on hillsides above the presidential palace in Caracas. The barracks are being converted into a Museum of the Revolution.
Who will step into Chavez's shoes? Presidential elections will be held within 30 days of the funeral and there are two clear frontrunners. Chavez's most likely successor is the man he anointed last December - vice president Nicolas Maduro, says Sky. But Maduro is "no Chavez". The former bus driver has strong working class credentials, but lacks charisma and the strong ties to the military that Chavez, a former paratrooper, enjoyed. His key opponent will be Venezuela's 40-year-old opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, who "exuded youth and energy in last year's punishing presidential race". But Capriles - a "centrist who sees Brazil's mix of economic and social policies as the model to follow" – will face a tough battle beating Chavez's "anointed heir in a highly emotional atmosphere".