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Lining up for Comandante, one last time

Millions of Venezuelans have been, for the past days, patiently queuing for hours to pay final tribute to Chavez.
Last modified: 10 Mar 2013 03:14
Thousands are queuing up to get a last glimpse of President Hugo Chavez in his casket [Gabriel Elizondo/Al Jazeera]

Hugo Chavez always fashioned himself as a man of the people, by the people, for the people.

In his death, the people are responding.

 On Saturday, four full days after he died, tens of thousands of Venezuelans were still lining up to see his body in the Military Academy in Caracas.

The line stretched well over a kilometre. The wait time? About seven hours.

Let me repeat: this is four full days after his death and his body lies in wake.

It's still blazing hot in Caracas, and with little shade an Army tent hospital is set up to treat those who collapse from heat exhaustion. It's happening often, but as one lady said, it's a small sacrifice to make for the man who gave so much to his country, in her opinion.

Many in line are wearing red shirts with Chavez face emblazoned on the front. Some hold rosaries. Other hold a copy of the Constitution Chavez authored.

Others wear head bands that say, "I am Chavez". in Spanish.

Paying last respects

The people are not here because they have to be. Nobody is forcing them. They are here because they want to be, it's voluntary.

I read one report that just in the first 24 hours of his wake there were two million people who braved the lines to see his body and pay last respects. Again, that was just in the first 24 hours.

Some of the people are so old they have to be escorted in to see him, propped up by Army soldiers. Others are in wheelchairs. Some are so young then can't see into the casket and have to be lifted up by their guardians.

All day, 24 hours a day, people stream in for that last glimpse of Chavez (interim President Maduro announced his body will be displayed in a mausoleum museum after the wake). Live images are played on state television.

Once people reach Chavez casket they have about two seconds to pause and see him. If they linger more than that, or try to touch the glass that covers his body, a guard gently ushers them away to keep the line moving. 

Once they reach Chavez casket, most people offer a firm salute. Others quickly say a prayer. Many sob.

Some just gaze at his corpse looking shocked, while others make the sign of the cross on their chest.

Some men pump their fist in the air, a sign of resistance Chavez made famous.

Queuing up

The funeral was held on Friday, with dignitaries from around the world. But it's the everyday people waiting hours for one glimpse of the man they adore that are most remarkable to me. The ones who aren't rich or well connected, and didn't get dropped off in bullet proof cars with tinted windows and police escort. 

Say what you want about Chavez: A hero and common man to millions, a tyrant who destroyed the country to others.

But the scenes of the millions patiently standing in lines for hours just to pay final tribute to him speaks volumes about how so many felt about the man, and his legacy on Venezuela. The scene is real, raw, unrehearsed, and honest.

Even in death, they're lining up for their Comandante. One last time. 

Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter @elizondogabriel