CARACAS, Venezuela – In the tree-lined eastern hills of Caracas, you would never know an elaborate state funeral was in progress across town for the most popular president in Venezuela’s recent history.
At a park in the La Floresta district Friday, spandex-clad men and women did group aerobics and jogged, while others sat lounging on benches. No one had any intention of paying their respects to “El Comandante.”
Hugo Chavez polarized Venezuela between the mostly lower classes who followed him almost blindly during his 14 years in power and an opposition that despised what they said was his autocratic bearing, intolerance for dissent and mismanagement of the economy.
“This is a big joke,” Eduardo Perez, a 44-year-old lawyer, said of the funereal pomp across town. “I feel ridiculous as a Venezuelan.”
“We can’t be so radical as to say he didn’t accomplish anything, but when you consider matters in macro terms you grasp that we are in bad shape,” Perez said as he tinkered with the engine of his Ford Explorer.
In La Castellana, another wealthy neighborhood of the capital, Oscar Carreno spent Friday morning walking his schnauzer, with no plans to watch the funeral on TV. The 23-year-old economist said he saw Chavez, a former paratrooper, as a divisive figure who had torn the country asunder politically.
“His style was to cast aspersions on former governments,” said Carreno. “That’s what he emphasized.”
Carreno acknowledged Chavez was a master politician and survivor, and said he hoped the president’s death would be an opening for new faces and a new direction.