CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez paid tribute to 19th century independence leader Simon Bolivar on Saturday by unveiling a new coffin containing Bolivar’s remains and adorned with gold, pearls and diamonds.
Soldiers lifted a flag from the mahogany coffin during a ceremony marking the anniversary of Bolivar’s death in 1830. Bolivar is both a national hero in Venezuela and the namesake of Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution political movement.
“You live on in us,” Chavez said in a speech, standing next to the coffin. “As the years pass, you will be more alive, father Bolivar.”
Officials have said Chavez’s government is spending 119 million bolivars ($27.7 million) to build a new mausoleum to house Bolivar’s remains. The mausoleum is to have a soaring roof, and a metal framework has been partly erected behind the National Pantheon, where Bolivar’s remains have long been entombed.
Chavez oversaw the exhumation of Bolivar’s remains last year, seeking to confirm his idol’s identity and investigate a theory that Bolivar could have been killed. Researchers confirmed Bolivar’s identity through DNA tests but were unable to pin down the cause of his death.
The new coffin bears golden stars and the national seal, as well as Bolivar’s initials and golden laurels. An announcer said the decorations on the coffin include diamonds and pearls from Venezuela.
Chavez has made Bolivar a central symbol throughout his nearly 13-year-old presidency. He often speaks below a portrait of Bolivar. In 1999, Chavez promoted the approval of a new constitution that changed the country’s name to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.