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Venezuelans parade Chavez's coffin, prepare for vote

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Weeping and shouting, a sea of Hugo Chávez supporters paraded his coffin through the streets yesterday in an emotional outpouring that could help his deputy win an election and keep his self-styled socialist revolution alive.

Hundreds of thousands of "Chavistas" marched behind a hearse carrying the body of the flamboyant and outspoken president. It was draped in Venezuela's blue, red and yellow flag.

Avenues resounded with chants of "Chávez lives! The fight goes on!" as supporters showered flowers onto the coffin and jostled to touch it. Loudspeakers played recordings of the charismatic socialist giving speeches and singing. Some supporters held heart-shaped placards that read: "I love Chávez!" Others cheered from rooftops, waving T-shirts.

Ending one of Latin America's most remarkable populist rules, Chávez died Tuesday at 58 after a two-year battle with cancer. His body was to lie in state at a military academy until a state funeral on Friday.

The future of Chávez's socialist policies, which won him the adoration of poor Venezuelans but infuriated opponents who denounced him as a dictator, now rests on the shoulders of Vice President Nicolas Maduro, the man he tapped to succeed him.

Maduro, 50, a former bus driver and union leader, will probably face Henrique Capriles, the centrist opposition governor of Miranda state, in an election now due within weeks. A recent opinion poll gave Maduro a strong lead over Capriles.

President Barack Obama issued a statement reaffirming Washington's support for the Venezuelan people.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) called Chávez's death "an opportunity for democracy in Venezuela."

Some of the estimated 190,000 Venezuelan immigrants in the United States, half of them in Florida, cheered and waved their country's flag and expressed hope that change would come to their homeland.

"We are not celebrating death," Ana San Jorge, 37, said in the Miami suburb of Doral. "We are celebrating the opening of a new door, of hope and change." With AP

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