Hugo and the Hereafter
Is Hugo Ch√°vez‚Äôs monstrous new mausoleum for his idol, Sim√≥n Bol√≠var, a hint that he may want to be buried there himself?
A lot of charges have been leveled over the years against Venezuelan President Hugo Ch√°vez, but subtlety is not one. Facing what some think is terminal cancer, Ch√°vez is building a $140 million extravaganza to house the remains of Venezuela‚Äôs founding father, Sim√≥n Bol√≠var. And rumors have it that the building may be intended for Ch√°vez as well.
Erasing Venezuela‚Äôs 2 million-unit housing deficit has been one of the main priorities of Ch√°vez‚Äôs socialist revolution, especially as the Oct. 7 presidential election nears. But the government‚Äôs latest ‚Äúhousing‚ÄĚ project, a $140 million edifice for one man, is raising questions about the president‚Äôs priorities and motivations.
Ch√°vez is expected to inaugurate an imposing 160-foot-high, earthquake-proof mausoleum for Bol√≠var‚Äôs remains. The project has been shrouded in secrecy, as well as plagued by cost overruns and construction delays, and many Venezuelans also have the nagging suspicion that the mausoleum might also be intended for Ch√°vez, who is battling what might be terminal cancer.
‚ÄúThis is a monument to Ch√°vez‚Äôs megalomania,‚ÄĚ says Juan de Dios, who heads the Caracas-based Bol√≠varian Society, an organization that seeks to keep alive the memory and legacy of El Libertador, as Bol√≠var is known. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs just too much.‚ÄĚ Bol√≠var is a hero in Venezuela and most of South America, thanks to his fight to liberate the continent‚Äôs Spanish colonies in the 19th century. Bol√≠var, one of the few men in history to have a country named after him, is considered one of South America‚Äôs most influential political leaders.
For the last 170 years, Bol√≠var‚Äôs remains have rested in the National Pantheon, a neo-Gothic former church located near the center of Caracas. Bol√≠var died in neighboring Colombia in 1830 at age 47. His remains were brought to Venezuela in 1842 at the government‚Äôs request.
The Pantheon also serves as the final resting for place more than 100 famous Venezuelans ‚ÄĒ and therein lies the rub. In today‚Äôs Venezuela, many former patriots are now regarded with suspicion. Many dignitaries buried in the Pantheon ‚Äúreally aren‚Äôt heroes,‚ÄĚ Vice President El√≠as Jaua claimed when the government announced that it was considering a new building. Among those interred are former presidents Cipriano Castro and Antonio Guzm√°n Blanco, whose records were at best spotty and whose administrations were riddled with corruption.