Caracas, Venezuela – Overnight and into the morning, lines of Venezuelans waited for hours to pay their final respects to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who died Tuesday after a battle with cancer.
His body, which was carried through the streets of Caracas during a seven-hour ceremony, will be at the Fort Tiuma military academy until his official funeral on Friday.
Chávez's coffin was led into the chapel of the academy by a military procession that included socialist party leaders including the late president’s hand-picked successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro. After it was placed in the academy's Hall of Honor, several heads of state, including Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Bolivia's Evo Morales, surrounded the open casket to pay tribute.
Cannon boomed a salute each hour, the only interruption to what seemed an endless procession as hundreds of thousands filed past, with countless more still to come.
I waited 10 hours to see him, but I am very happy, proud to have seen my comandante
- Yudeth Hurtado
"I waited 10 hours to see him, but I am very happy, proud to have seen my comandante," said 46-year-old Yudeth Hurtado, who was sobbing. "He is planted in our heart."
Member's of Chávez's family, including his children and his mother, also bid farewell to the controversial leader.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be among the leaders from around the world attending the funeral, according to Iranian state television.
"Venezuela lost its brave, strong son and the world lost a wise and revolutionary leader," Ahmadinejad said in a release shortly after the Venezuelan president's death on Tuesday.
The United States is also sending an official delegation but it was unclear who and how many official would participate.
The majority of those Venezuelans waiting to view Chávez's flag-draped casket were clad in "Chavista" red, the official color of the United Socialist Party, which Chávez founded. Chávez supporters receive only a few seconds to view the body of the man who led Venezuela since 1999. Most who visited either saluted or prayed while many wept openly.
While much of this country was immersed in collective grief, millions who bitterly opposed Chávez's take-no-prisoners brand of socialism were staying away from the mourning crowds, quietly hoping Chávez's death would usher in a less confrontational, more business-friendly era in this major oil-producing country.
Opponents already have been stepping up criticism of the government's questionable moves after Chávez's death, including naming Maduro, Chávez's hand-picked successor, as acting president in apparent violation of the constitution.
The 1999 constitution that Chávez himself pushed through mandates that an election be called within 30 days to replace a president, but Chávez's top lieutenants have often applied a flexible interpretation of that law.
The charter states that the speaker of the National Assembly, in this case Diosdado Cabello, should become interim president if a head of state is forced to leave office within three years of his election. Chávez was re-elected only in October.
But Chávez anointed Maduro for that role, and the vice president has assumed the mantle even as the government has named him as the ruling socialist party's candidate in the presidential vote.
The military also appears to be showing firm support for Maduro despite a constitutional mandate that it play no role in politics. In a tweet late Tuesday, state television said the defense minister, Adm. Diego Molero, had pledged military support for Maduro's candidacy against likely opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, raising concern among critics about the fairness of the vote.
Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state who lost to Chávez in October, was conciliatory in a televised address after the president's death, but other opposition leaders were more critical of the military stance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Serafin Gomez is a special campaign correspondent for Fox News Latino, and a Special Events & Politics Producer for FOX News Channel. Fin formerly worked as the Miami Bureau Producer for Fox News Channel where he covered Florida Politics & Latin America. Follow him on Twitter: @Finnygo.