Beyond the Bubble

By Danny Zhang

Last Tuesday, March 5, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who was infamous for his fervent anti-Americanism and socialist leadership, died of respiratory failure due to lung cancer at the age of 58.

His vice president, Nicolas Maduro, had primed the nation on television in the hours leading up to Chávez’s death as his health irreversibly deteriorated throughout the day. After leaving the country for cancer treatment in Cuba in December, Chávez did not made a public appearance, even when he returned to Venezuela on Feb. 18.

Chávez was re-elected to a fourth term as Venezuela’s president on Oct. 7, 2012. He garnered 55 percent of the popular vote for an 11-point victory. Venezuela’s Supreme Court permitted Chávez to begin his new term in office, despite missing the scheduled presidential inauguration on Jan. 10.

Chávez’s well-attended and pompous state funeral was held last Thursday at the Military Academy in the capital, Caracas. Present were most heads of state from Latin America, who had been comrades-in-arms of sorts with Chávez in the last decade, as well as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., two democratic Congressmen and actor Sean Penn. Vice President Maduro presided over the ceremony.

“Here you are commander with your men, standing, all your men and women, loyal as we swore before you, loyal until beyond death,” said Maduro. “We have smashed the curse of betrayal of the country and will smash the curse of defeat and regression.”

Jesse Jackson also delivered a eulogy. He praised Chávez for helping lift the poorest members of society out of poverty and called for a détente in U.S.-Venezuelan relations.

Chávez’s funeral procession wound through the streets of Caracas on Wednesday, where hundreds of thousands of grieving supporters came out to bid farewell to the polarizing late leader. In the hours prior to his funeral, many more mourners filed past his body that was lying in state in a glass casket. Immediately after the funeral, Maduro said that Chávez’s body will be embalmed and displayed permanently at the Museum of the Revolution. Chávez will join a small group of world leaders who have been preserved for eternity, most of whom were long-time communist dictators like Mao Zedong, Kim Jong-Il and Ho Chi-Minh.

As per constitutional procedure, a new presidential election has been called for on April 14. Maduro, who was sworn in as acting president on Friday, has vowed to carry on Chávez’s legacy and continue the socialist revolution that has polarized both Venezuelans and the international world. The main opposition coalition nominated Henrique Capriles, a young state governor who drew 44 percent of the vote in the October election.

Although candidates have a month to campaign, Maduro is widely expected to emerge victorious, given the outpouring of emotion after Chávez’s death and the resources of the state at his disposal.

Details of Chávez’s final months have slowly emerged after his death. His cancer was first announced in June 2011. Since then, he has received four operations in Cuba, where the condition of his health could be shielded from public scrutiny. Throughout the fall presidential campaign, Chávez relied on heavy doses of medicine to alleviate pain and exhaustion.

During his last stay in Cuba from December through February, Chávez underwent a tracheotomy, after a serious lung infection almost killed him during a six-hour operation. He was unable to speak and was forced to breath through a tube, but was still making policy decisions and personnel appointments with the help of his ministers.

According to a military general who was with Chávez at the time of his death, the late president’s last words were: “I don’t want to die. Please don’t let me die.”