President Hugo Chavez died of a heart attack after great suffering and inaudibly mouthed his desire to live, said the head of Venezuela’s presidential guard.
“He couldn’t speak but he said it with his lips... ‘I don’t want to die. Please don’t let me die,’ because he loved his country, he sacrificed himself for his country,” said General Jose Ornella.
The general said he spent the last two years with Chavez, including his final moments, as Venezuela’s president of 14 years battled an unspecified cancer in the pelvic region.
Ornella spoke outside the military academy where Chavez’s body lay in state. He said Chavez’s cancer was very advanced but gave no details. Ornella did not respond when asked if the cancer had spread to Chavez’s lungs.
On the eve of Chavez’s death, the government announced he had suffered a severe respiratory infection. It was the second such infection reported by officials after Chavez underwent his fourth cancer surgery in Cuba on Dec 11.
The general said he didn’t know precisely what kind of cancer afflicted Chavez, but added: “He suffered a lot.”
He said Chavez knew when he spoke to Venezuelans on Dec 8, three days before his final surgery in Cuba, “there was very little hope he would make it out of that operation”.
It was Chavez’s fourth cancer surgery and previous interventions had been followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
Ornella echoed the concern of vice president Nicolas Maduro that foul play was involved in Chavez’s cancer. “I think it will be 50 years before they declassify a document [that] I think [will show] the hand of the enemy is involved,” he said.
The general didn’t identify who he was talking about, but Maduro suggested possible US involvement. The US State Department called the allegation absurd.
Later, Venezuelans flocked to see their deceased leader one last time and pledged his socialist revolution will not die. Tens of thousands of grieving supporters stood in lines that snaked around a grandiose military academy in a mass show of respect for Chavez.
From soldiers in fatigues to officers in ceremonial dress, senior ministers to residents of the slums where Chavez was most loved during his 14 years in office, those in line vowed to defend his legacy and back his preferred successor, acting president Nicolas Maduro, in a new vote.
“We want to see the president, we want to be there for his last moments,” said Trinidad Nunez, 40, outside the building where Chavez’s corpse lay in state until his funeral today.
“It is up to us to carry on the revolution and do what Chavez asked us to do: support Maduro.”
Chavez’s corpse was dressed in army uniform and the signature red beret he wore in a 1992 speech to the nation that launched his political career after a failed coup.
There is uncertainty over exactly when a presidential poll will be held.
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