Chavez's last words: I don’t want to die
In this photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Hugo Chavez' mother Elena Frias, third from left, and brothers Adan, second from left, Argenis, first right, and Adelis, fourth from right, stand next to the flag-draped coffin containing the body of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez on display during his wake at a military academy where his body will lie in state until his funeral in in state in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, March 6, 2013. AP Photo/Miraflores Presidential Press OfficePresident 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, The Associated Press has reported.
"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.
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 that 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 that 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 lies in state with open casket for farewell
Venezuelans filed past the open casket of late President Hugo Chavez as he lay in state Thursday after throngs of weeping loyalists gave the firebrand leftist a rousing farewell on the streets, AFP has reported.
As Venezuelans began three days of goodbyes, an election to succeed Chavez loomed, after the curtain came down on a 14-year socialist presidency that heightened class tensions in the oil-rich South American nation.
Hundreds of thousands waved flags and chanted "Chavez lives" as his hearse crawled across the capital Wednesday in a seven-hour trip from the hospital where he died to the academy he once called his second home.
The former paratrooper's hand-picked successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, led the procession, wearing a somber expression and the colors of the national flag, in what was in effect his debut in an election campaign.
The coffin was then placed half-opened in the hall, surrounded by Chavez's grieving mother Elena, who covered her face with a white handkerchief, three of his daughters, son Huguito and a granddaughter, some choking back tears.
The presidents of Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia, close Chavez allies, and a crowd of officials applauded to chants of "Chavez lives, the struggle goes on!" The doors were then opened for ordinary Venezuelans, who stood in a huge line to pay their respects, some making the sign of the cross, others in uniform giving the military salute, as a four-man honor guard stood by stiffly.
"His face was beautiful. We will remember him the way he was, the way he lived," Yelitze Santaella, governor of Monagas state, told AFP after seeing the body, which was not shown directly in state-run television coverage.
Chavez's death after a nearly two-year struggle with cancer was a blow to his supporters and to the alliance of left-wing Latin American powers, and it has plunged his OPEC member nation into uncertainty.
A new election is due to be called within what are sure to be 30 tense days, with Maduro, who took over as interim president, likely to face opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in the October election.
Under Chavez, Venezuela's oil wealth has underwritten the Castro brothers' communist rule in Cuba, and he repeatedly courted confrontation with Washington by cozying up to anti-Western governments in Russia, Syria and Iran.
Chavez's body, surrounded by soldiers en route to the academy where he found his political calling as a young man, will lie in state for Venezuelans to see until an official ceremony with foreign dignitaries on Friday.
People watched from their apartment windows while others climbed fences to get a better view of the hearse. Many held or wore iconic images of Chavez.
"After Jesus Christ, there's Hugo Chavez," said Maria Alexandra, a 46-year-old mother of six who said she lived in poverty before Chavez.
"Before him, the government didn't care about us... Now children have everything," she said.
Others expressed hope that Chavez's self-styled "Bolivarian Revolution" -- based on using the country's vast oil wealth for housing, education and social programs -- would live on after him.
"The leader is gone, but the ideas will never disappear," said Roberto Galindez, 32, a former professional basketball player turned computer engineer. "Maduro has the same Chavista doctrine. He will continue with the same ideals." The 58-year-old leader died Tuesday, weakened by a respiratory infection after a fourth round of cancer surgery. He had returned to Caracas on February 18 after two months of treatment in Cuba.
The death brought thousands of citizens to public squares across the country, weeping and celebrating the life of a man whose oil-funded socialist revolution delighted the poor and infuriated the wealthy.
But in a country divided by Chavez's populist style, not everyone agreed on his legacy, with opposition supporters in better-off neighborhoods still angry.
"Hate and division was the only thing that he spread," 28-year-old computer programmer Jose Mendoza told AFP in an eastern Caracas opposition bastion. "They want to make him a martyr. It made me laugh."