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Venezuela’s Chavez unveils image of Bolivar


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Chavez created the job after an opposition candidate was elected mayor of Caracas; Sesto is a former culture minister whose job includes overseeing housing construction in the capital.

Chavez interrupted his televised speech on Tuesday to let Sesto make a televised appearance outside the mausoleum. "We’re ready to turn over this mausoleum now," Sesto said.

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Sesto did not respond to repeated requests for an interview through his spokeswoman.

In a public discussion of the project in early June, Sesto said it cost $140 million and was built because "we have always had the sense that Bolivar needed a mausoleum worthy of his grandeur."

"There was a lot of criticism that his remains were not in a dignified state" in the Pantheon, he added, noting that those who designed the mausoleum "heard a lot of ideas, including those of the president."

He did not say what exactly Chavez suggested, and defended the austere contemporary style, adding that natural light entering the roof would render "a sensitive and magical appearance" to Bolivar’s pedestal-elevated sarcophagus.

In a blog entry entitled "Arrogance," Tenreiro remarked on the high quality of the construction and imported materials, including for the exterior white Spanish ceramic tiles and "weathering" steel that oxidizes to orange without losing strength.

"One appreciates the enormous mass, limpid and seductive in itself but gigantic and absurd, out of context, possessive of the same sin as the political system from which it originates."

Tenreiro expressed concern that the mausoleum’s sloping southern facade, which connects it with the Pantheon, will become a water slide in heavy rains, potentially flooding the smaller, neoclassical former church.

A member of the governing board of Venezuela’s College of Architects, Mitchele Vidal, did not like that the Pantheon, its back wall removed, was "converted into a hallway for entering the mausoleum."


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Other critics have likened the sloping wall to that of a skate park, prompting Sesto to post on his blog a series of world-renowned edifices that also sport a slope.

Vidal called the mausoleum an "unnecessary" expenditure given the need in the very neighborhood it sits for investment in housing and better health care. From the top of the monument, where workers say a persistent flame will burn, one looks down to the east on a squalid collection of tin-roofed hovels.

But others believe Venezuelans deserve a towering monument.

"I don’t think it’s exaggerated at all," said Isis Berroteran, a 47-year-old housewife from the west-central town of Cagua as she admired it from her car. "The Pantheon, although spectacular, had become pretty small as the city grew."

A foreman whose workers were painting pipes inside the mausoleum’s shell on Sunday, Jose Freytes, said he was initially skeptical of the monument but came to appreciate it as it took form.

Other countries, including the United States, have built imposing monuments to their founders. Why not Venezuela? After all, Bolivar helped liberate many lands.

"The essence of the idea is to elevate the name of Bolivar internationally. That’s what it’s about," said Freytes. "I think the president is doing the right thing."

Elias Pino, a historian and leading expert on Bolivar, considers the mausoleum Chavez’s way of deepening his own identification in people’s minds with the national hero.

"The political intent is that President Hugo Chavez be proclaimed the agent of Bolivar’s will and interpreter of the gospel of Bolivar," he said.

"This monument will tie together both figures," he said, "and will not just be the mausoleum of Bolivar but also the entrance of President Chavez into the pantheon of patriots."



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