CARACAS — Venezuelans bade farewell to President Hugo Chavez at a funeral service Friday morning attended by more than 30 heads of state honoring the populist firebrand who became a thorn in the side of the United States and a hero to leftist movements the world over.
But a burial is not in the Venezuelan government’s plans: Chavez’s body is to be embalmed and put on display for eternity in a glass coffin, a decision that delighted many of his red-shirted followers. And the man who announced those plans, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who often chokes back tears when talking of Chavez, will be sworn in as president to fulfill the late leader’s public wishes.
‘‘I have heard that we will continue to see him for seven days,’’ said Jose Antonio Muñoz, 62, who spoke amid the throngs outside the military academy where Chavez’s body had lain in state since his death Tuesday, at age 58. ‘‘After that they will build a mausoleum so we can see him eternally. That’s the first time that happens in Latin America.’’
One president after another arrived at the academy, where the funeral took place, dressed in black and waving to rambunctious crowds of Chavistas, as Chavez’s supporters are known. The dignitaries at the academy’s Honor Salon not only included Chavez’s close friends from the region, among them President Evo Morales of Bolivia and President Raul Castro of Cuba, but also Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who received warm applause from the other politicians, celebrities, and government functionaries.
The United States, which Maduro earlier this week implied had taken part in a plot to infect Chavez with cancer, sent an understated delegation, Representative Gregory Meeks, Democrat of New York, and former Massachusetts congressman William D. Delahunt, who years ago frequently met with Chavez. The United States does not have an ambassador based in Venezuela, the last one having been ousted by Chavez during one of his frequent spats with Washington.
Political analysts said that the elaborate ceremony by the government and the plans to display Chavez’s body in perpetuity would help further instill in Venezuelans the importance of continuing Chavismo, even if Chavez is no longer around. That would clearly help Maduro, who in the weeks ahead may face a hearty challenge from the opposition in an election for the presidency.
‘‘Without a doubt, all these manifestations contribute,’’ said Rafael Romero, a political scientist at the Central University of Venezuela who closely tracks Venezuelan elections. “It’s a way of saying, ‘We can’t betray him, because we’re talking about continuing his legacy.’ ”
Romero added that the presence of more than 30 presidents at the funeral also buttressed the government’s argument that Chavez was important well beyond Venezuela.
Whatever impact all this will have in elections could come soon.
The constitution says that the death of a president this early in his term means that an election must be called within a month. But neither the government nor the electoral authorities that Chavez controlled have said when a vote might take place.
Venezuela has been calm and the political discourse has been civilized, which is unusual for a country where Chavez and his aides frequently called critics ‘‘traitors,’’ ‘‘low-lifes’’ and ‘‘lapdogs’’ of the United States.
“Everything is normal, and we have to be civilized,” said Celia Utrera de Salazar, 64.