CARACAS, Venezuela (JTA) — Nicolas Maduro, the handpicked successor of the late Hugo Chavez, was sworn in as the interim president of Venezuela amid opposition calls that the choice was unconstitutional.
Maduro, the former foreign minister, took the oath of office on Friday night promising to uphold the legacy of his political patron.
“I take the sash of Chavez to complete his oath and continue his way, the revolution and forward movement of independence and socialism,” a solemn Maduro vowed.
Earlier in the day, the heads of 55 states attended Chavez’s lavish funeral at the military academy in Caracas.
Henrique Capriles Radonski, the leader of the opposition, held a news conference calling Maduro’s swearing-in unconstitutional. Radonski, who lost to Chavez by an 11-point margin in elections held last October, read aloud a passage from the constitution drafted by Chavez’s party in 1999 that called for the speaker of the National Assembly, currently Diosdado Cabello, to fill the position.
“Nicolas, they did not elect you,” said Capriles, who identifies as Catholic and is the grandson of Holocaust survivors. “The people have not voted for you, kid.”
The constitution calls for new elections within 30 days; no date has been set for a vote.
David Bittan and Efrain Lapscher, the leaders of CAIV, Venezuelan Jewry’s umbrella group, said on Friday that their group’s mission would not change regardless of the victor of the expected presidential race.
“In the future, we’ll have elections and we can change governments or the same government will stay, but we will have the same issues,” Lapscher said. “We will try to give the best Jewish life possible and we will combat anti-Semitism if it comes from the government, their supporters or outside.”
During his 14 years in office, Chavez championed Venezuela’s poor, setting up an elaborate welfare system with the country’s vast oil wealth while haranguing the opposition. An avowed critic of what he called “U.S. imperialism,” he severed ties with Israel and formed alliances with countries such Cuba, Iran, Libya and Syria.
At Chavez’s funeral, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kissed the coffin of the late leader, who once called him a “kindred spirit.” Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, often referred to as the last dictator of Europe, shed tears.
The ceremony’s host made special mention of the presence of representatives of Palestine, which drew particular applause, and Bashar Assad’s embattled government in Syria.
In a eulogy, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson described Chavez as a champion of the poor and called for better ties between the U.S. and Venezuela.
Maduro placed a gold sword — a replica of the one that belonged to 19th century liberator Simon Bolivar, one of Chavez’s heroes — on the late president’s coffin.
State-owned TV channels broadcast images from the funeral live under a banner that read “Chavez, forever.”
“It’s just his body, just his body,” gushed an anchor. “Chavez lives on.”