The funeral for Venezuelan president, Hugo Rafaél Chávez Frías, was held the morning of Friday March 8th, at the Military Academy in Caracas, Venezuela. 55 countries sent delegations to the funeral. 33 of them were headed by presidents or heads of government. In a strong show of unity and support, every single one of Latin America’s presidents, and most of the Caribbean’s heads of state were present at Chávez’s funeral (though the presidents of Brazil and Argentina left early).
This is a turnout with few precedents. The death of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963 brought together a total of 19 heads of state. The funeral of President Ronald Reagan in 2004 gathered 36 former and current heads of state. The death of Hugo Chávez brought together at least 38 former and current heads of state.
The governments of Spain, France, Portugal, Lebanon, Finland, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Australia, Syria, Greece, Ukraine, Croatia, Jordan, Slovenia, Turkey, Gambia, China, and Russia sent fairly high level delegations to represent their governments at the funeral. Spain’s royal heir, the prince of Asturias, attended, as did the General Secretary of the Organization of American States José Miguel Insulza, the Reverend Jesse Jackson –who spoke at the funeral, actor Sean Penn, and the much celebrated Venezuelan orchestra director Gustavo Dudamel, who missed one of his shows at the Los Angeles Philharmonic to direct the Simón Bolívar Symphonic Orchestra at the funeral.
Though much of the major media has ignored this international show of recognition for the government of Hugo Chávez, these responses to his death are a clear affirmation of respect and acknowledgement for his legacy, from Latin America and around the world.
Again in contrast with the rest of the region, the United States sent no representative of the Obama administration to the funeral. James Derham, an official from the U.S. embassy in Venezuela attended the ceremony along with Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and former Congressman William Delahunt (D-MA). The morning of Chávez’s death, Vice President Nicolás Maduro expelled two U.S. embassy officials that he accused of violating diplomatic protocol, possibly contributing to the U.S.’s reluctance to send any administration official from Washington to the funeral.
Instead of giving the public a sense of the broad and historic show of international recognition of Chávez from so many countries, much of the major media focused on the attendance of U.S. “foe” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. For an interesting, balanced analysis of the relations between Iran and Venezuela this blog post by David Smilde is worth a read.
Days of Mourning
In another unprecedented show of acknowledgment for the legacy of Hugo Chávez, an astonishing number of countries – a total of 14 – decreed official days of mourning in response to President Chávez’s death. Nine Latin American countries declared three days of mourning (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Peru and Uruguay), while two more, Bolivia and Nicaragua, like Venezuela, declared seven days each. From other regions of the world, Belarus, Nigeria and Iran declared three, seven and one day of mourning, respectively.
The Response from the Venezuelan Public
In addition to the strong reaction from around the world, the response from Chávez supporters in Venezuela was also unprecedented. From Thursday, when Chávez’s casket was put on display for public viewing until the time of the funeral, reportedly 2 million people had already paid their respects and bade farewell to their president, many of them waiting up to 12 hours in line for the opportunity to pass by his coffin. An 8 kilometer-long march, with hundreds of thousands of Chávez’s supporters, dressed in red, and pouring onto the streets, accompanied the procession of Chávez’s coffin from the hospital to the Military Academy where the funeral was held. Multitudes then viewed the funeral from outside of its location, watching on large screens as they waited for another opportunity to bid their president farewell.