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“So far, nothing has happened,” said Bittan, the Jewish owner of a car service company whose cousin, also named David Bittan, is the head of CAIV, Venezuela’s Jewish umbrella group. “I don’t think there’s any reason to worry right now. I think they are focusing on his funeral on Friday.”
At one point during the drive, Bittan noted a group of Chavista motorcyclists wearing red shirts and flying Venezuelan flags driving besides his SUV in a long line.
“They’re on their way to attend the procession of Chavez’s coffin,” he said.
That massive procession on Wednesday, which culminated in a huge rally at the military academy, was attended by Maduro and Bolivian President Evo Morales and was broadcast live on all five state-owned TV stations. Venezuelans of all stripes, both supporters and opponents of the late president, gathered around TV screens at gas stations, restaurants and bars to watch the proceedings.
“Our son, brother, teacher, revolutionary,” gushed a TV anchor, eulogizing Chavez. “His light will shine on.”
One woman interviewed during the broadcast said she would be forever grateful to Chavez for implementing a program that gave her a house for free.
“He was better than all of us,” she said. “This should not have happened. I will always have him in my heart.”
At a downtown hotel catering to businessmen located a few metro stops away from the military academy, the spectacle was received very differently.
“All the supporters are government employees,” said one woman dismissively. “They are not forced to go, but they feel under pressure to show up. They might lose their job if they don’t.”
By nightfall Wednesday, the streets of Caracas had emptied out – even more so than usual.
“I don’t like being out on a night like this,” Bittan said uneasily.
Vendors at a supermarket in the Altamira neighborhood said they ran out of water bottles as locals rushed to stock up on basic foodstuffs.
Nearby, a large of poster of Chavez, one of many around town showing the leader known as El Comandante in various outfits and poses, depicted a youthful Chavez in a red beret and olive-green military uniform, raising his right fist aloft.
The sign read: “Complete the mission.”