Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets of Caracas on Friday to bid a final farewell to late president Hugo Chavez a month before elections to pick his successor.
Friends and family of the man who ruled the oil-rich country for 14 years joined high-ranking government and army officials at a mass in his honor, sending the populist remains on a last journey through the capital.
He became an exemplary president, the only one who remembered the poor, said Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly, at the military academy where Chavez's casket has been on display for the past nine days.
Those who scoff and say we no longer have Chavez, you are wrong, he added defiantly. We must comply with the Comandante's orders: unity, struggle, battle, victory.
His daughter Maria Gabriela, donning dark glasses, broke through the applause to thank her father for giving us the homeland back and promised to defend his legacy, as Chavez's mother wept incessantly. The proceedings were led by acting President Nicholas Maduro.
The casket was then loaded into a black hearse for the 12 kilometer procession by foot, motorcycle, car, jeep and on horseback to the army barracks-turned-museum that the former paratrooper had used as his headquarters during a failed 1992 coup attempt.
Located on a hilltop, his Mountain Barracks resting place overlooks a sprawling public housing complex in the poor western end of the capital that once was a fervent Chavez stronghold.
Huge crowds of supporters -- many sporting red shirts bearing Chavez's likeness -- watched as the hearse, flanked by riders in ceremonial red military uniforms on horseback, made its way slowly down the Paseo de los Proceres, a boulevard honoring the country's founders.
The march resembled last week's seven-hour procession during which Chavez's coffin was transferred to the academy from the military hospital where he died.
What happens to the body in the longer term is still an open question since the original project announced by Maduro to embalm Chavez like Lenin and put him on permanent public view, as he had earlier suggested fell through following on the advice from Russian and German embalmers.
The experts said such a process takes six months and the body, exposed for over a week, was in no condition to be embalmed.
Also up in the air is a proposal to inter his remains in the National Pantheon next to those of independence leader Simon Bolivar, Chavez's personal hero and the inspiration of his populist movement.
On Tuesday, the ruling party postponed debate in parliament on a constitutional amendment that would make this possible without waiting 25 years.
The family insists that Chavez is laid to rest in his grandmother’s plot under a tree in Sabaneta where the Venezuelan leader grew up.
Venezuelans will vote for a new president on April 14. In the running are Maduro, Chavez's handpicked successor, and opposition leader Henrique Capriles, whom Chavez beat in October elections.