Venezuela's acting president said Wednesday that it is highly unlikely Hugo Chavez will be embalmed for permanent viewing because the decision to do so was made too late and the socialist leader's body was not properly prepared on time.
"The decision should have been made much earlier," Nicolas Maduro said during a speech at a government-run book fair. "The decision, or really the proposal more than a decision, was made as a product of love."
President Chavez died on March 5. The decision to preserve his body permanently was announced two days later.
Chavez's embalmed body was to be put on display at a military museum on a hill a mile from the presidential palace, where it was to have been transferred on Friday.
Maduro suggested the body would still be placed there.
"The world's best" experts, Russian and Germans, were brought in and consulted on the embalming and advised authorities that it was probably not possible, said Maduro. He did not go into detail.
A Colombian embalmer, Camilo Jaramillo, said that in order to forestall decomposition a body needs to be chemically treated without hours of death — unless it is kept refrigerated at 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius).
"What I really thought was odd, and what raised a lot of questions, is that they were putting him on display in vigil," said Jaramillo.
Indeed, the body was still on display Wednesday at the military academy where it has lain in state for a week.
The idea of placing Chavez on permanent display, like Vladimir Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong as Maduro said when he announced it, was influenced by visiting leaders, said Maduro.
He did not name the leaders but Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia, Jose Mujica of Uruguay and Cristina Fernandez of Argentina all arrived in Venezuela the day after Chavez died.
Maduro said that regardless of what authorities decided to do with the body "we will have our comandante open so that our people can accompany him permanently."
"His place of Christian rest will be a most beautiful place, it is already a most beautiful place," he added.
The embalmer, Jaramillo, had one theory as to why the government had apparently changed its mind on embalming.
In several videos recorded before his death, Chavez is seen saying he wishes to be buried in Sabaneta, his hometown.
"He didn't want to be embalmed," said Jaramillo. "Perhaps they took into account some of his wishes."