Tens of thousands of people wept openly in the streets of Caracas over the death of their "Commandante," President Hugo Chavez, while exiled Venezuelans in the U.S. cheered after learning of the socialist leader died.
CARACAS — Condolences flooded in from all over the globe and more than 100 countries will be sending emissaries to Friday's funeral for Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who succumbed to cancer on Tuesday after a 20-month battle.
Even Washington will be represented, despite the contentious relations between the two governments. Just hours before the 58-year old president died, Caracas expelled two American military officials attached to the U.S. mission for allegedly committing acts to "destabilize" the Chavez government.
Friday's funeral and burial will be more formal than Wednesday's procession of his casket through the streets of Caracas.
For ten hours, an estimated one million Venezuelans followed the coffin for miles as it traveled from the military hospital where Chavez died to the Military Academy, where he studied to become a paratrooper.
Grief-stricken followers lined the streets as the coffin of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez was carried from the hospital to the military academy where he will like in state until his funeral on Friday. NBC's Brian Williams reports.
It was a parade of emotions, with men and women of all ages weeping openly. As the caravan moved slowly through the streets, mourners tossed flowers, flags and red caps with Chavez slogans on the casket until it was completely covered in a mound of mementos. Chavez's immediate family rode in the funeral procession.
Overnight, thousands have stood in line to pay their last respects, many wearing the bright blue, red and yellow colors of the country's national flag. As mourners filed past the coffin, there were scenes of genuine sadness and dismay. Some people prayed while others saluted his remains. His supporters are devastated but also promising to keep his revolution alive.
"Comandante — rest in peace. We'll carry on your fight," said Cesar Trompiz, a university student who appreciated what he called Chavez's "powerful connection" to the country's poor. "He was one of us. He looked like us. He spoke like us," Trompiz added.
'Without you, we're nothing'
Guillermo Hernan and members of his family traveled from Chavez's hometown in northwest Venezuela to pay their respects. He helped his elderly mother walk past the casket as she wailed, "Without you, we're nothing." Hernan said that Chavez taught him to love his country.
"We were orphans before Chavez. We had no father and we had no motherland. Chavez became our father and gave us the right to our homeland," said Hernan. In his 20s, he said the government's policies have helped his family with housing and education.
While the depth of the grief for millions here cannot be understimated, Chavez was also a polarizing figure for millions of other Venezuelans vehemently opposed to his leftist policies and close political allegiances with countries like Cuba and China. The two sides are known to clash verbally and some observers had feared that Chavez's death would spark civil unrest. But since Tuesday's announcement, the opposition has toned down its political rhetoric — urging the president's enemies to be respectful of Chavez's grieving family during this difficult time.
However, many expect politics as usual to crank up as soon as the nation's seven-day official mourning period ends.
Under the Constitution, a national vote must be called within 30 days of the office being vacated and, from then, the election must take place 30 days later. Although no specific date has been announced, one source reports that Venezuelans may be going to the polls to decide on Chavez's replacement during the second weekend in April.
Ricardo Mazalan / AP
Slideshow: Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez across the Americas mourn his death.